As personal injury attorneys, we are dependent on our court system to deliver justice to those who harm – or would harm – others. Our United States court system is vast and complex but it is also worthy of appreciation and respect. Despite its flaws, it is a far more effective and democratic justice system than most other countries have in operation. And, it is also a distinct part of our unique American identity.
Our multi-tiered judiciary protects individual rights through the supremacy of the federal courts and the work done by the state courts. This balancing act is not just happenstance. It is the result of countless hours of discussion among our country’s Founding Fathers, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, to name a few. Read on to learn more about the history of the United States court system.
HOW IT BEGAN
To appreciate how our modern legal infrastructure works, it’s a good idea to first understand the origins of our national court system. Our courts came about due to three historic events:
The Constitutional Convention in 1787, the development of the United States Constitution itself (ratified in 1788), and the First Congress in 1789.
Four years after the end of the Revolutionary War, The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia took place. More than 50 delegates at this meeting undertook a fierce debate about how to frame the Constitution and how to structure a national justice system.
Excerpted from the National Archives and Records Administration: Those who did not attend included Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams and, John Hancock. In all, 55 delegates attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, but only 39 actually signed the Constitution.
At this gathering, delegates fiercely debated how to frame the proposed U.S. Constitution. They also set out to structure a national judiciary.
There were two distinct groups in opposition regarding how the Constitution should be crafted. The Federalists were strong proponents of a mighty, powerful national government. They were suspicious of the parochial prejudice of state courts. Federalists and their supporters believed that the federal judiciary should consist of trial courts, appellate courts, and one supreme tribunal.
The Anti-federalists supported states’ rights. They feared that a dominant federal judiciary would destroy/undermine the states’ authority and that the federal government would be too powerful. They felt that the state should have both trial and appellate courts, and that the supreme federal court would exist to hear final appeals.
When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, it addressed this disagreement, but not in full. It sketched out a federal court system in general terms, and introduced a distinctly American concept—the Supreme Court.
Article III of the Constitution begins, “The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
Note that President George Washington chose the very first Supreme Court justices. More on these essential, landmark decisions and activities regarding our courts will be shared in Part 2 of this article.
The Tijerina Legal Group, McAllen personal injury lawyer welcomes your inquiries, and is proud to share this fascinating information about how our incredible justice system developed.