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William Paterson, 1752–1835, oil on canvas by Thomas Sully, 1821

Maryland Historical Society

William Patterson

Congress Creates the Federal Court System

The U.S. Constitution established the nation’s Supreme Court but left Congress to determine the structure of the federal court system. In the Judiciary Act of 1789, the First Congress (1789-1791) established district and circuit courts, defined the federal courts’ jurisdiction and appellate powers, and created the position of U.S. attorney general. Although amended many times, the act remains the foundation of the U.S. judicial system.

I consider a proper arrangement of the judiciary, however difficult to establish, among the best securities the government will have

Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, Letter to Richard Law, August 4, 1789