Article III, Section 1:
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 Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
The Constitution is almost completely silent concerning the organization of the federal judiciary.
That there should be a national judiciary was readily accepted by all.1 But whether it was to consist of one high court at the apex of a federal judicial system or a high court exercising appellate jurisdiction over state courts that would initially hear all but a minor fraction of cases raising national issues was a matter of considerable controversy.2 The Virginia Plan provided for a
National judiciary [to] be established to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature . . . .3 In the Committee of the Whole, the proposition
that a national judiciary be established was unanimously adopted,4 but the clause
to consist of One supreme tribunal, and of one or more inferior tribunals5 was first agreed to, then reconsidered. The provision for inferior tribunals was ultimately stricken out, it being argued that state courts could adequately adjudicate all necessary matters while the supreme tribunal would protect the national interest and assure uniformity.6 Wilson and Madison thereupon moved to authorize Congress
to appoint inferior tribunals,7 which carried the implication that Congress could in its discretion either designate the state courts to hear federal cases or create federal courts. The word
appoint was then adopted, but over the course of the Convention the phrasing was changed again so as to suggest somewhat more of an obligation to vest such powers in inferior federal courts.8
The requirement that judges hold their office during
good behavior excited no controversy during the Convention,9 although the lack of an enforcement mechanism for this provision resulted in impeachment under Article II becoming the primary mechanism for removal of a federal judge.10 And finally, the only substantial dispute that arose regarding the denial to Congress of the power to reduce judicial salaries (a power which could be used to intimidate judges) came on Madison’s motion to bar increases as well as decreases.11