The Senate Judiciary Committee: Function and Roles from Past to Present
On September 24, 1789, the First Session of the First United States Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which authorized the structure of the Federal judiciary. Article III, section I of the Constitution establishes that "the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in on Supreme Court." It further provided for a system of inferior courts to be created as Congress saw fit. Eight Senators were appointed to the select committee charged with drafting the Judiciary Act. The resulting legislative proposal called for a six-justice Supreme Court. The court was given original jurisdiction, or the right to hear a case for the first time, to settle disputes between states or between a state and the United States government. The Act also created 13 lower district courts, and the Office of the Attorney General.
As the nation grew, so, too, did the complexity of the government. On December 10, 1816, the Senate adopted a resolution to create the original 11 standing committees of the Senate, including the Committee on the Judiciary. The Committee's original jurisdiction closely tracks the jurisdiction of the current Committee: the courts, law enforcement, and judicial administration. Over the years, the Committee's jurisdiction has come to encompass a variety of issues ranging from patents and copyrights to immigration and naturalization. The Judiciary Committee also became the first stop for statehood petitions. It was the Judiciary Committee that first debated the Missouri Compromise of 1820. And following the Civil War, the Committee played a major role in the consideration of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
It was not until 1868 that the Senate began referring all judicial nominations to the Judiciary Committee. The Committee's consideration and review of the nominees to fill lifetime appointments on the Federal judiciary is among the Senate's most important functions.