On this day in 1869, Congress increased the number of justices on the Supreme Court from seven to nine—where it has remained ever since. (Whether the number should remain at nine has been a point of renewed attention in recent months.)
In 1866, Congress had reduced the number of Supreme Court justices to seven. Republicans who controlled Congress were battling President Andrew Johnson (a Democrat who had assumed office when Lincoln was assassinated), and they sought to deny Johnson any appointments to the Court. By 1869, Ulysses Grant, a Republican, had replaced Johnson, and Congress expanded the number of justices. Senator Lyman Trumbull sponsored the Judiciary Act of 1869, which, in addition to setting the number back to nine, also required six justices to form a quorum. President Grant signed the legislation and then nominated William Strong and Joseph Bradley to the newly restored seats.
The Act contained other notable provisions. It allowed all federal judges (including Supreme Court justices) to retire with full salary after serving for at least 10 years, provided they had turned 70. Previously, federal judges had no incentive to leave the court before their death, as the government offered no retirement benefits. The Act also created separate circuit judges for the circuits, and it allotted each Supreme Court justice one of the nine circuits in which that justice had to attend at least one term in each of the circuit’s districts every two years.
This Post was Written by ISCOTUS Fellow Bridget Flynn, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator Matthew Webber, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member Christopher W. Schmidt.