Supreme Court Held First Session 226 Years Ago Today

At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison was tasked with the eventual penning of the United States Constitution. Amidst the debates of the convention, Madison sided with the framers who supported the idea of a three branched federal government. The reasons for Madison’s desire to create a three branched government is best explained in Federalist Paper #51, where Madison penned:

“TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution? The only answer that can be given is, that as all these exterior provisions are found to be inadequate, the defect must be supplied, by so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places.”

The Framers did not want one central branch to hold most of the power the way the British crown ruled Parliament. They divided the powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches, giving each a partial power over another as a means of checks and balances. The executive branch had a legislative power in the form of a veto. The legislative branch had judicial powers to conduct impeachment hearings. The legislative branch was also given executive powers to provide advice to the president as well as to give consent to any treaty or foreign policies made by the president. The judicial department was given limited legislative powers to write new laws via their judicial rulings.

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Eventually the Constitution was approved by the Convention. Ratification by the states took place on June 21, 1788, but there was still work to do. In September 1789, the Judiciary Act was passed which enacted Article III of newly ratified Constitution. Article III spells out the role and powers of the judicial branch.

On the same day the Judiciary Act was passed, President George Washington appointed John Jay to be the very first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In addition to Jay, Washington appointed John Blair (VA), William Cushing (MA); Robert Harrison (MD); John Rutledge (SC) and James Wilson (PA) to serve as associate justices. All six Supreme Court appointees were approved.

On this day, February 1, 1790, the first session of the Supreme Court of the United States was held in the Royal Exchange Building in New York. John Jay served as Chief Justice from 1789 to 1795 when he was elected governor of New York. In 1816, Jay penned a letter to John Murray, Jr, in which he wrote one of my favorite statements about America and our Christian foundation:

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

If only that were still true today.

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