Constitutional origins of the federal judiciary.




Brogdon, Matthew S.

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This dissertation examines the constitutional underpinnings of twentieth-century developments in the structure and function of the federal judicial system. In the half-century between 1891 and 1939, the federal judiciary underwent its first complete reorganization since the First Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789. The result was rapid growth in the independence, extent, and power of federal courts. Congress first furnished the federal judiciary with the institutional means to extend its jurisdiction by increasing the number of federal trial courts and establishing a full set of intermediate appellate courts in 1891 to handle the bulk of federal judicial business. In the ensuing decades, Congress gradually relinquished control over the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction, giving the Court nearly complete discretion over the composition of its own docket. Soon thereafter, Congress likewise turned over control of federal procedure to the Judicial Conference of the United States and in 1939 furnished the federal judiciary with its own administrative apparatus, the Administrative Office of the Federal Courts, to aid in the formulation and administration of judicial policy. The resulting institution looked far different than the judiciary that had administered federal law in the early republic. Prevailing accounts of this development find the origins of the modern judiciary in its immediate political context and deny to the Constitution any role as a determinate of its forms, claiming that the Framers never envisioned the sort of judicial institution that now pervades the Union. Looking to the framing of Article III in the Federal Convention of 1787, debates in the First Congress on the Judiciary Act of 1789, and the exercise of judicial power in the early republic, I argue to the contrary that the modern judiciary is a fulfillment of, rather than a divergence from, the institutional design of the Constitution. This has important implications not only for the adjudication of interpretive controversies over the meaning and application of Article III, but also for broader debates about the complex interaction between constitutional forms and political practice. It suggests that the Constitution functions as a determinant as well as a product of American political development.



Judicial Power., Article III., Judicial review., Separation of powers., American constitutional development., Federal Convention of 1787., Judiciary Act of 1789., Circuit Courts of Appeals Act., Judiciary Act of 1925., Federal jurisdiction., Supreme Court.