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U.S. Supreme Court, photograph, 1923

Chief Justice William Howard Taft had long wanted to narrow the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction for greater efficiency and closer focus on constitutional questions. When Senator Albert Cummins of Iowa, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, invited the Court to draft such legislation, Taft charged the task to Associate Justices Willis Van Devanter, James Clark McReynolds, and George Sutherland.

U.S. Supreme Court Collection, Supreme Court Museum and Archives

U.S. Supreme Court, photograph, 1923

Congress and the Court Collaborate

Beginning in 1891, Congress allowed the court some discretion over its docket, but still required it to hear many appeals from lower courts. By the 1920s, the Supreme Court was backlogged with cases stemming from World War I and enforcement of liquor prohibition. Congress, with advice from Supreme Court justices, made major changes to the court’s jurisdiction in 1925. The so-called “Judges’ Bill” relieved the Court by removing all but a small set of cases from its mandatory docket.

Congress determines the structure and authority of the federal court system. In 1925 Congress and the Supreme Court collaborated in redefining the highest court’s role and narrowing its jurisdiction.