Jay and Ellsworth, The First Courts

Justices, Rulings, and Legacy

by Matthew P. Harrington


The Supreme Court was something of an experiment. The first courts of John Jay and Oliver Ellsworth had to determine exactly what the court's role would be, and they were required to define important concepts and interpret the Constitution for the very first time. Readers will learn why in this intriguing work.

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Cover image for Jay and Ellsworth, The First Courts

May 2008


Pages 309
Volumes 1
Size 7x10
Topics Politics, Law, and Government/Law

A fascinating exploration of the first two Supreme Courts and how they laid the groundwork for the modern-day Court.

When the Supreme Court was established in 1789, no other country had a judicial body quite like it. The early justices struggled to give definition to such concepts as "judicial review" and "separation of powers." The early court approached its role in ways that would be startling today, often using its power to support the new government rather than merely serving as an independent arbiter.

The Jay-Ellsworth Courts were the first to take up the role of interpreting the constitution, and their approach influenced constitutional debates for the next two centuries. Clearly, this is a book for any reader who wishes to understand how the court was initially set up and how it functioned in our early judicial history.


  • Biographies of key justices such as Oliver Ellsworth, John Marshall, and John Jay
  • Background reference section containing A–Z entries on the people, such as George Washington and John Adams; laws and constitutional provisions, including the First Judiciary Act and Article III; and concepts, such as "judicial review" and "separation of powers," that are important to an understanding of the Jay and Ellsworth Courts


  • Provides the only comprehensive coverage of the workings of the early Supreme Court
  • Covers the often-overlooked contributions of the predecessors of the Marshall Court
  • Demonstrates how the Supreme Court helped in the struggle to establish a new nation
Author Info

Matthew P. Harrington is a professor of law at the University of Montreal, Canada, where he teaches English and American Constitutional Law, Legal History, and Property. His published work includes articles on judicial review, the history of the civil jury, and the constitutional implications of economic expropriations, which have appeared in Williams and Mary Law Review, George Washington Law Review, Hastings Law Journal, and Wisconsin Law Review.



"This title is recommended for public and academic libraries."—ARBA

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