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Supreme Court Research Guide

This guide provides background information and suggests resources for further research on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices of the Court, and the Court's practice and decisions.


Research Guides

In addition to this guide, there are many other freely available research guides on the U.S. Supreme Court:

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The Supreme Court of the United States is the court of last resort in the United States. Many cases that the Court reviews concern the U.S. Constitution, and the Court's decisions have far-reaching implications for the citizenry and the history of the United States. This guide is designed to give some background information and suggest resources for further research on the history of the Court, the Justices of the Court, and the Court's practice and decisions.

History of the Supreme Court

Article III, § 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that "[t]he 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." In accordance with this constitutional provision, the Supreme Court of the United States was created under the Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73 with six Justices. The Court first assembled on February 1, 1790 in New York City, which was then the nation's Capital. The first cases, however, did not reach the Supreme Court until its second year. The earliest sessions were devoted to organizational proceedings. The Court expanded to nine members in 1869 (Judiciary Act of 1869, ch. 22, 16 Stat. 44).

Article III, § 2 provides the Supreme Court with its judicial power.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; - to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; - to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; - to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; - to Controversies between two or more states; - between a State and Citizens of another State; - between Citizens of different States; - between citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

28 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq. and other special statutes confer jurisdiction on the Supreme Court.

For more information about the history of the court, you could check the following sites:

  • The Supreme Court Historical Society
    Founded by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the Society, a private non-profit organization, is dedicated to the collection and preservation of the history of the Supreme Court of the United States. The website provides information about the history of the Court, a list of the most significant oral arguments heard by the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1993, and some full text access to a few of its publications, such as the Journal of Supreme Court History and the newsletter SCHS Quarterly.
  • About the Supreme Court (Supreme Court of the United States website)
    Provides information on the history of the Court, including its traditions, oaths of office, Justices, the building, and more.
  • History of the Federal Judiciary (Federal Judicial Center)
    Includes biographical information on federal judges, history of federal courthouses, landmark judicial legislation, and more.

Further Reading

To find additional books on Supreme Court history in the Georgetown Law Library, search GULLiver (the library catalog) by subject for "united states supreme court history".