What is the History of the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court of the United States was considered critical as part of the checks and balances that formed how the United States was to be governed. The idea of such a court emerged during early Constitutional debates in 1787. The Supreme Court of today, however, has changed but still plays the ultimate arbiter in interpreting legislation.
The Early Court
The Supreme Court opened its first session in February 1790 in New York City, the then capital of the United States. Later in 1790, it moved to Philadelphia, which also became the capital, where the court met in Independence Hall. Initially, the court was made up of six justices, where it was envisioned that a two-thirds majority would be needed for any decision. The first case to be litigated before the court, West v. Barnes, involved procedural issues, in particular, the procedures of appeal. There were few major cases in the 1790s and the court lacked a permanent home. The first major case was Chisholm v. Georgia, which saw Chisholm sue the state of Georgia. The case influenced the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed individuals to sue states based on state consent.
The most influential figure in the early Supreme Court was justice John Marshal (1801-1835. This was the period when the concept of judicial review became an established precedent that has influenced subsequent acts by the court to review legislation as they come up. The concept of a review of Constitutional issues became fully established by this time and many practices, including issuing a single majority opinion by the Court, became established during this time. One influential case was the impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase. He was accused of partisan bias and the case that involved his impeachment influenced and shaped the idea that the Supreme Court is an independent part of the government. In effect, the Court attempted to make a break from partisan politics and established a precedent to be an independent reviewer of legislation and judgment of following the laws of the United States.
Arguably the most impactful Supreme Court decision helped create the fault lines that became the Civil War. The Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 case, under Chief Justice Robert Taney, established that American citizenship was not to be given to black people, regardless if they were free or slave. Effectively this made all blacks not have citizenship rights. Ultimately the 14th Amendment overturned this decision. The Dred Scott v. Sandford case also influenced what ultimately would become the concept of substantive due process, which protected the rights of individuals even if their rights were not explicit in the Constitution. This would thus prevent a repeat of The Dred Scott v Sandfor case.