Wednesday, February 1, 2017


JFK+50:  Volume 7, No. 2207


New York City (JFK+50) Two centuries and twenty-seven years ago, February 1, 1790, the United States Supreme Court met for the first time at the Royal Exchange Building on Broad Street here in New York City.

That meeting was quickly adjourned because all the justices were not present. Although the court reconvened on the following day, since there was no cases to consider, it adjourned until September.

The highest federal court of the nation was established by Article III of the United States Constitution (1789) and the number of justices (a chief justice and five associate justices) was set by the Judiciary Act of 1789.  The number was increased to nine in 1837.  In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed an increase to 15 justices.  This idea, called the "court-packing plan," was ultimately rejected.

The chief justice and associate justices are appointed by the POTUS and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  To date, 160 justices have been nominated with 124 confirmations*.  Unlike the President, Vice-President and Congressmen & Senators, there are no official qualifications for Justices of the Supreme Court.

One of the reasons a Presidential Supreme Court appointment is so important is that the justices serve for life.  Their terms end only by resignation, retirement, removal by impeachment or death.

The first decision handed down by the Supreme Court came in the case of West v. Barnes (1791) in which the court held that writs of error or appeals must be issued within 10 days by the Supreme Court clerk and not by a lower court.

In the original case former Revolutionary soldier William West was sued by David Barnes for having paid a mortgage with paper currency instead of gold or silver.

The Supreme Court met in Philadelphia from 1791-1800 and in Washington,D.C. from 1801 to the present.  Today's Supreme Court Building opened in 1935.

*President George Washington has the most Supreme Court nominations (11) followed by FDR (9)  Four POTUS had none:  WH Harrison, Z. Taylor, A. Johnson, J. Carter. 


"7 Things You Might Not Know About the US Supreme Court," by Elizabeth Nix, October 8, 2013,

Marbury v Madison Engraving
U.S. Supreme Court Building
Washington, D.C.
Photo by John White (2003)