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The Midnight Judges Act (also known as the Judiciary Act of 1801; , and officially An act to provide for the more convenient organization of the Courts of the United States) represented an effort to solve an issue in the
U.S. Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or Americ ...

U.S. Supreme Court
during the early 19th century. There was concern, beginning in 1789, about the system that required the Justices of the Supreme Court to "ride circuit" and reiterate decisions made in the appellate level courts.Turner, Katheryn. "Republican Policy and the Judiciary Act of." William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 22. January 1965. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Page 5. The Supreme Court Justices had often expressed concern and suggested that the judges of the Supreme and circuit courts be divided. The Act was repealed by Congress on January 22, 1802.


Effect on judicial divisions and authority

The Act became law on February 13, 1801 and reduced the number of seats on the Supreme Court from 6 to 5, effective upon the next vacancy in the Court. No such vacancy occurred during the brief period the Act was in effect, so the size of the Court remained unchanged. The Act also created 16 new judgeships that
John Adams John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat A diplomat (from grc, δίπλωμα; romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of ...

John Adams
rapidly began to fill in the last weeks of his presidency. These judges came to be known as the "Midnight Judges." The Act reorganized the circuit courts, doubling them in number from three to six, and created three new circuit judgeships for each circuit (except the sixth, which received only one circuit judge). In addition to creating new lifetime posts for Federal judges, the circuit judgeships were intended to relieve the Justices of the
Supreme Court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of just ...

Supreme Court
from the hardships of riding circuit (that is, sitting as judges on the circuit courts). The circuit judge-ships were abolished in 1802, and the Justices continued to ride circuit until 1879. One of the judges on the Supreme Court appointed by Adams was Chief Justice
John Marshall John Marshall (September 24, 1755July 6, 1835) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the fourth chief justice of the United States The chief justice of the United States is the chief judge A chief judge (also known as chief ...

John Marshall
. The Act also reorganized the district courts, creating ten. These courts were to be presided over by the existing district judges in most cases. In addition to subdividing several of the existing district courts, it created the District of Ohio which covered the
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Northwest
and
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...
Territories, and the District of Potomac from the
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District of Columbia
and pieces of
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic (United States), Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware ...

Maryland
and
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...

Virginia
, which was the first time a federal judicial district crossed state lines. However, the district courts for
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and
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Tennessee
were abolished, and their judges reassigned to the circuit courts. In addition, it gave the circuit courts
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to hear "all cases in law or equity, arising under the constitution and laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority." This form of jurisdiction, now known as
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, had not previously been granted to the federal courts.


The Midnight Judges

In the 19 days between passage of this Act and the conclusion of his administration, President Adams quickly filled as many of the newly created circuit judgeships as possible. The new judges were known as the Midnight Judges because Adams was said to be signing their appointments at midnight prior to President
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were cr ...

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's inauguration. The famous Supreme Court case of '' Marbury v. Madison'' involved one of these "midnight" appointments, although it was an appointment of a justice of the peace for the District of Columbia—which was authorized under a different Act of Congress, not the Judiciary Act. Attempts to solve this situation before and throughout the presidency of John Adams were overshadowed by more pressing foreign and domestic issues that occupied Congress during the early years of the nation's development. None of those attempts to fix the situation facing the Supreme Court were successful until John Adams took control in 1797. Faced with the
Election of 1800 An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold Public administration, public office.Federalist Party The Federalist Party was the first political party in the United States American electoral politics has been dominated by two major political parties since shortly after the founding of the republic. Since the 1850s, they have been the Histo ...
and the rising
Democratic-Republican Party The Democratic-Republican Party, also referred to as the Jeffersonian Republican Party and known at the time under various other names, was an American political party founded by Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – ...
, John Adams successfully reorganized the nation's court system with the Judiciary Act of 1801.Stephenson, D. Grier; ''Campaigns and The Court: The U.S. Supreme Court in Presidential Elections''; New York: Columbia University Press, c1999. Page 48.


The Election of 1800

During the Election of 1800, there was an intense growth of partisan politics, the political party of the executive branch of government changed for the first time, and there was an unprecedented peaceful transition of the political orientation of the country's leadership."The John Adams Administration". Presidential Administration Profiles for Students. Online Edition. Gale Group. Pages 1, 3. The main issues in this election were taxes, the military, peace negotiations with France, and the
Alien and Sedition Acts The Alien and Sedition Acts were four laws passed by the Federalist The term ''federalist'' describes several political beliefs around the world. It may also refer to the concept of parties, whose members or supporters called themselves ''Fede ...
and Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions. The campaign leading up to this election and the election itself revealed sharp divisions within the Federalist Party.
Alexander Hamilton Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757July 12, 1804) was an American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker, and economist. He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States The Founding Fa ...

Alexander Hamilton
and the extreme Federalists attacked Adams for his persistence for peace with France, his opposition to building an army, and his failure to enforce the Alien & Sedition Acts. The results of this election favored Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr over John Adams, but both Jefferson and Burr got 73 electoral votes."The Thomas Jefferson Administrations". Presidential Administration Profiles for Students. Online Edition. Gale Group, 2002. Page 3. Presented with a tie, the House of Representatives, which was dominated by Federalists and led by Alexander Hamilton, eventually decided the election in favor of Thomas Jefferson. Democratic-Republicans also won control of the legislative branch of government after the congressional elections. Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated March 4, 1801 without the presence of President John Adams. Jefferson's inaugural address attempted to appease the Federalists by promising to maintain the strength of the federal government and to pay off the national debt. Jefferson spoke of dangerous "entangling alliances" with foreign countries as President George Washington had done before him, and made a plea for national unity claiming that "we are all republicans and we are all federalists." Once in office, Jefferson set out to rescind the Judiciary Act of 1801 and remove newly appointed Federalists.


''Marbury v. Madison''

The implications of Adams's actions in appointing Federalists to the Supreme Court and the federal courts, led to one of the most important decisions in American judicial history. '' Marbury v. Madison'' solidified the United States' system of checks and balances and gave the judicial branch equal power with the executive and legislative branches. This controversial case began with Adams' appointment of Federalist
William Marbury William Marbury (November 7, 1762 – March 13, 1835) was a highly successful United States of America, American businessman and one of the "Midnight Judges" appointed by United States President John Adams the day before he left office. He was the ...
as a
justice of the peace A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer A judicial officer is a person with the responsibilities and powers to facilitate, arbitrate, preside over, and make decisions and directions in regard to the application of the law. Judicial ...
in the District of Columbia. When the newly appointed Secretary of State
James Madison James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, diplomat, expansionist, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited wi ...

James Madison
refused to process Marbury's selection, Marbury requested a writ of
mandamus (; ) is a judicial remedy A legal remedy, also referred to as judicial relief or a judicial remedy, is the means with which a court of law A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Ad ...
, which would force Madison to make his appointment official. Chief Justice
John Marshall John Marshall (September 24, 1755July 6, 1835) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the fourth chief justice of the United States The chief justice of the United States is the chief judge A chief judge (also known as chief ...

John Marshall
declared that the Supreme Court did not have the authority to force Madison to make the appointment official. This statement actually challenged the Judiciary Act of 1789, which stated that the Supreme Court did, in fact, have the right to issue those writs. Marshall, therefore, ruled that part of the
Judiciary Act of 1789 The Judiciary Act of 1789 (ch. 20, ) was a United States federal statute An Act of Congress is a statute enacted by United States Congress, Congress. Acts can affect only individual entities (called private laws), or the general public (public ...

Judiciary Act of 1789
unconstitutional because the Constitution did not expressly grant this power to the judiciary. In deciding the constitutionality of an act of Congress, Marshall established
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government), branch of government that has authority and responsibility for the administration of state bureaucracy * Executive, ...
, the most significant development in the history of the Supreme Court.


Impeachment of Samuel Chase

Among the repercussions of the repeal of the Judiciary Act was the first and, to date, only impeachment of a sitting
Supreme Court Justice The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest ranking judicial body in the United States. Its membership, as set by the Judiciary Act of 1869, consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justice of the Supreme ...
,
Samuel Chase Samuel Chase (April 17, 1741 – June 19, 1811) was a Founding Father of the United States The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers or Founders, were a group of American revolutionary Patriots (also kn ...

Samuel Chase
. Chase, a Federalist appointed to the Supreme Court by
George Washington George Washington (February 22, 1732, 1799) was an American soldier, statesman, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were credited with establishing a state. Natio ...

George Washington
, had publicly attacked the repeal in May 1803 while issuing his charge to a
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in
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: "The late alteration of the federal judiciary ... will take away all security for property and personal liberty, and our Republican constitution will sink into a mobocracy, the worst of all popular governments." Jefferson responded to the attack by suggesting to his supporters in the
U.S. House of Representatives The United States House of Representatives is the lower house A lower house is one of two chambers Chambers may refer to: Places Canada: *Chambers Township, Ontario United States: *Chambers County, Alabama *Chambers, Arizona, an unin ...
that Chase be impeached, asking, "Ought the seditious and official attack on the principles of our Constitution . . .to go unpunished?"Jerry W. Knudson, "The Jeffersonian Assault on the Federalist Judiciary, 1802-1805: Political Forces and Press Reaction," ''American Journal of Legal History'' 1970 14(1): 55-75; Richard Ellis, "The Impeachment of Samuel Chase," in ''American Political Trials,'' ed. by Michael R. Belknap (1994) pp 57-76, quote on p. 64. The House took Jefferson's suggestion, impeaching Chase in 1804. He was acquitted by the
Senate The Curia Julia in the Roman Forum ">Roman_Forum.html" ;"title="Curia Julia in the Roman Forum">Curia Julia in the Roman Forum A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or Debating chamber, chamber of a bicameral legislatu ...
of all charges in March 1805, with Vice President
Aaron Burr Aaron Burr Jr. (February 6, 1756 – September 14, 1836) was an American politician and lawyer. He served as the third vice president of the United States The vice president of the United States (VPOTUS) is the second-highest officer in ...

Aaron Burr
presiding.


Federal question jurisdiction

The repeal of the Judiciary Act also ended the brief period of comprehensive
federal-question jurisdiction In United States law, federal question jurisdiction, 28 USC 1331, is the subject-matter jurisdiction of United States federal courts to hear a Civil law (common law), civil case because the plaintiff has alleged a violation of the United States C ...
. The federal courts would not receive such jurisdiction again until 1875.


See also

* Midnight regulations, related term * '' Stuart v. Laird'' (1803)


Footnotes


Further reading

* James M. O'Fallon, ''The Case of Benjamin Moore: A Lost Episode in the Struggle over Repeal of the 1801 Judiciary Act'', 11 43 (1993). {{SCOTUS horizontal 1801 in American law 6th United States Congress History of the Supreme Court of the United States United States federal judiciary legislation