Supreme Court History

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court was inspired by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (circa 1692)... though various courts and Judiciaries predate that. While the U.S.'s was the first, It was such a good idea that most other countries have copied it. Even the U.K. got religion and created one in 2009, 220 years after we did.
  • The number of judges floated from 6, to 7, to 9 (1837, and 1869) where it has stayed, despite a couple of efforts by Democrats to stack the court whenever it did its job defending individuals from their wishes to lord over them.
  • Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life (or retirement), they can be impeached. The first was Samuel Chase (1804) for ignoring his duty (at being impartial as he would rule however the Democrats wanted). Impeached in the House for the obvious dereliction of duty, the Democrats controlled the Senate and acquitted him, demonstrating their founding principle: partisan agenda over the Constitution and rule of law.


The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Court with 6 judges, but in 1807 Congress increased it to 7. (Odd numbers work better in ties). Then in 1837, the number was bumped up to 9, then 10 in 1863. Then in 1866 they went back to 7... until 1869 when it went back to 9, and stuck. With about 10,000 annual requests to review cases, they hear about 80 cases per year. Since these are all appeals from lower federal court, there's no real witnesses or trial, it is all legal review. Both sides submit written legal arguments (briefs) in advance, and justices usually listen to verbal (Oral) arguments from both sides, which justices asking questions. Then they go to closed room and debate how the decision will go, then write up their opinions (all with the help of their clerks).


Many people don't know it, but while Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life (or retirement), they can be impeached -- and Samuel Chase[1] was impeached by Congress (the House) in 1804 for being an obvious partisan Democrat. But since the Democrats controlled the Senate, they acquitted him in 1805, showing their contempt for the rule of law... and he remained on the bench until his death in 1811.

What's in a name?

Democrats and Republican's were called different things back then. (Like Federalists or Anti-Federlists). But the lines of those wanting more federal/centralized power (collectivism), versus more liberty (individualism), were established pretty quickly, though issues were sometimes not perfectly aligned in the ways one would assume.

  • The Federalists were the elitist, Pro-Administration (John Adams and Alexander Hamilton) and pro-authoritan party, who wanted national banks, national over state government, manufacturing over farming/agrarian, pro Britain and opposed the French Revolution.
  • While the Jefferson's Republican Party (or sometimes Democratic-Republicans) was James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and other individualists, who were anti-authoritarian, anti-federalists, they wanted stronger states and weaker federal, was more sympathetic to farmers, and was not as loyal to Britain, and supported individualism over aristocracy and thus was more neutral or positive on the French Revolution.

Since modern Republicans seem to love Jefferson, and modern Democrats dislike his individualism and were more Federalists, and both fit their ideologies respectively I categorize them by logical alignment. And so while the parties shifted a few more times before Andrew Jackson and Lincoln cemented the parties we have today, the Federalists became the Democrats, and followers of Jefferson as the Libertarians/Republicans).


📚 References