Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

In reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson wrote a series of resolutions, which were adopted by the legislature of Kentucky. The resolutions stated that, since the federal government had been created by the states; the states had the right to declare any federal laws invalid. James Madison wrote a similar set of resolutions, which were passed by the legislature of Virginia. These resolution became important in the debate over states' rights.

The Constitution had left it to the Congress to establish a court system. It stated that the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress was to establish. It then went on to delineate the responsibilities of the courts, but as to the operation it left it totally to Congress to organize.  The Constitution had also been deliberately vague on the relations between the Federal courts and the state courts.

Many of the Congressmen understood the importance of the legislation to create * the Federal court system. James Monroe wrote to his fellow future President and Virginian, James Madison:" That the bill to embrace the Judiciary will occasion more difficulty, I apprehend, than any other, as it will form an exposition of the powers of the Government itself, and show in the opinion of those who organized it, how far it can discharge its own functions. Or must depend for that purpose on the aid of those of the states. Whatever arrangement shall new be made in that respect will be of some duration, which shows the propriety of a wise provision in the commencement."

After a series of debates the Congress established a Supreme Court with one chief justice and five associate justices. The Congress also established thirteen district courts and three circuit courts. Two justices were assigned to a circuit. The most controversial aspect of the bill was the section that authorized "writs of errors" or appeals to the Supreme Court from the state courts. This gave the * Supreme Court supremacy over decisions of the State courts. At the time this provisions was opposed by those who saw the power of the court to accept appeals from State Courts as an interference in state rights.. The Judiciary Act was to have long term effects way beyond what the original Congress ever imagined.