The Constitutional Convention meets over the summer in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and writes what will become the U.S. Constitution. Article III of the Constitution, which establishes the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts but leaves the size of the Supreme Court to congressional discretion, states:
"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. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."
Congress passes the Federal Judiciary Act, making provisions for the organization and operation of the Supreme Court as well as the federal district courts. Although called for by the Constitution, the Court could not come into operation prior to this legislation. The act sets up a Court with one chief justice and five associate justices, and makes the justices personally responsible for presiding over circuit courts set up on a regional basis throughout the country.
On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Philadelphia Convention signed the U.S. Constitution. Article III of the Constitution invests the nation's judicial power in "one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."
Reproduction courtesy of the Library of Congress
On February 2, the Supreme Court holds its first public session in the Royal Exchange, at the foot of Broad Street in New York City. No cases are docketed for argument during the Court's first three terms, and -- besides the onerous travel commitments associated with circuit riding -- the justices have very little to do in the first years.
The Court follows the other branches of government as the nation's capital moves from New York to Philadelphia. It holds its sessions first in Independence Hall, then in a room in the newly built City Hall.
In February the Court issues its first important decision in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia, declaring that the state of Georgia is not immune to a lawsuit from a citizen of another state. The resulting political furor over the decision will lead to the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment (formally adopted in 1798), which prohibits the federal courts from hearing lawsuits brought by citizens of another state or a foreign country against a state. This protection is known as "sovereign immunity."