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Judiciary Act (1789)

Article III of the Constitution created only the Supreme Court. Congress was empowered to “ordain and establish” the lower court system, and it did so through this act of the First Congress.

The Judiciary Act called for six Supreme Court Justices, established 13 lower courts, created the office of attorney general, and provided for district attorneys. Finally, the Act established that Supreme Court decisions are final. The basic structure of the judiciary branch created by the Act is still in place today. James Madison believed that a strong federal court system was needed in order to ensure uniform enforcement of federal laws within each state and apply the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

The Supreme Court overturned the section granting the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison (1803).