The House Judiciary Committee and President Biden are pushing the Judiciary Act of 2021, which would radically change the Supreme Court. It’s an attempt to manipulate the Court and shift the balance of power so the three branches of government are no longer equal. To demystify the issue, here’s the history of the Supreme Court.
The Judiciary Act of the Constitution established the Supreme Court in 1789 as the third branch of the Federal Government. Although the Constitution is mute on the number of justices, the Judiciary Act of 1789 set the number at 6 – one chief justice and five associate justices.
Eighteen years later, Congress increased the number of justices to seven. Twenty years after that, in 1837, the number was increased again, this time to nine. In 1863, the number of justices was raised to 10.
Congress passed the Judicial Circuits Act in 1866, decreasing the number of justices back down to seven. Reorganization of the circuit and supreme courts effectively prevented Andrew Johnson from appointing anyone to the court during his presidency.
Then in 1869, Congress raised the number of justices back up to nine, where it has remained ever since. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to increase the number of justices by six in 1937. FDR viewed having 15 justices as a way to create a court that would be friendlier to his New Deal plan. His bid, however, was unsuccessful, so we’ve had nine Supreme Court justices for more than 150 years.
CONVENING THE COURT
The Supreme Court convened for the first time in February 1790 in New York City, the nation’s capital at the time. When the capital moved to Philadelphia, the court met there from 1791 to 1800.
The Court has met in Washington, DC, since February 1801. After Washington was burned by the British during the War of 1812, the Court temporarily met in a private home. Congress authorized $9.74 million in 1929 for the construction of a permanent building for the Supreme Court. The marble neoclassical structure, adjacent to the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress, has been in use since its completion in 1935.
QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE COURT
Interestingly enough, there are no specific qualification to serve on the Supreme Court. While the Constitution spells out qualifications for people who serve in the Executive and Legislative branches, no such requirements exist for the Court. In fact, six Supreme Court justices were foreign born. Most recently was Felix Frankfurter, who was born in Vienna, Austria. He served on the Court from 1939 to 1962.
Joseph Story was the youngest justice, appointed at just 32 years of age in 1811. The oldest person to serve on the Court was Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr., who retired at age 90.
All Supreme Court Justices share one thing in common – they were all lawyers, or had legal experience, prior to joining the Court.
Contrary to popular belief, Supreme Court justices can be impeached. Samuel Chase was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1804. The outspoken justice was accused of acting in a partisan way during Court proceedings. However, the Senate acquitted Chase in 1805 and he remained on the bench until his death in 1811.
APPOINTMENTS TO THE COURT
Although justices are appointed for life, many choose to retire or resign, often for health reasons. Fifty-one of the 106 former Supreme Court justices died while serving on the Court.
William Howard Taft has the distinction of being the only former president to also serve on the Supreme Court. He was appointed Chief Justice by President Warren G. Harding and served from 1921 until he retired in 1930. Taft replaced Chief Justice Edward Douglass White after his death in 1921, whom he appointed to the bench in 1910.
George Washington made the most appointments to the court at 12. FDR made the second most appointments at nine. Four president made no Supreme Court appointments. They were Andrew Johnson (Judicial Circuits Act in 1866), William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor (both died early in the presidency), and Jimmy Carter.
SERVING ON THE COURT
Although there have been 115 former and current Supreme Court Justices, there have been only 17 Chief Justices. And five of them served as Associate Justices before their appointment to Chief Justice. John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Roberts is the current Chief Justice.
Associate Justices currently earn about $255,000 annually, while the Chief Justice earns $267,000 a year. Supreme Court Justices have served an average of 16 years on the bench. The shortest tenure was John Rutledge at just over one year (1790-91) and the longest was William O. Douglas at 36 years, 7 months (1939-75).
Convening on the first Monday in October, the Court goes into recess in late June or early July. Of the 7,000 to 8,000 cases the Court receives each year, it agrees to review only 100 to 150 cases. The Court hears oral arguments on only about 80 of those cases.
FALLIBILITY OF THE COURT
The Supreme Court is fallible, reversing over 300 of its own decisions by subsequent rulings. Generally considered the worst Supreme Court ruling, Dred Scott v Sanford was overturned by the 14th Amendment.
Nevertheless, Supreme Court decisions are “the law of the land” until the Court reverses itself or sets a new precedent. But if the Judiciary Act of 2021 passes, the Court, and the country, will never be the same.
Image from: supremecourt.gov