Rather, Federalists worried about the potential for control over judges by state legislatures, which selected judges in most states and had the authority to remove them in more than half the states. Given the influence of debtor interests in state legislatures, the Federalists worried that state judges might be reluctant to enforce unpopular contracts or generally to foster the stable legal conditions necessary for commercial growth. Diversity jurisdiction was necessary to avoid a return to the conditions under the Articles of Confederation. Anti-Federalists fought the diversity of citizenship jurisdiction; they believed it “would involve the people of these States in the most ruinous and distressing law suits.” To quiet these fears, the Act established a jurisdictional minimum of $ 500, so that defendants would not have to travel long distances in relatively minor cases, and made state laws the rules of decision in the absence of applicable federal law.
The Federalists achieved their goal of establishing a federal trial judiciary rather than leaving all trials in the state courts. But the federal courts that the Act created were not designed to be completely free of the influence of their states politics and legal culture. The federal judiciarys fierce independence in protecting national legal rights against occasional state encroachment has been sustained by factors other than the geographic structure of the national court system. It seems axiomatic today that no district or circuit boundary should cross a state line, because (with one minor exception 28 ) none does. The 1789 Judiciary Act set this precedent, just as it required the district judges to reside in their districts. These requirements create inevitable relationships between federal courts and the states in which they are located. But state boundaries are not the only way that federal court boundaries could be defined. The creators of the federal judiciary might have established separate judicial administrative divisions that would ensure roughly equal allocation of workload and would be subject to realignment to maintain the allocation. In 1800, a last- gasp Federalist bill to revamp the judicial system would have divided the United States into nine circuits and twenty-nine districts, each district with a distinctive name and bearing no direct relation to state boundaries. For example, in the northern part of what is now the Second Circuit there would have been the district of Champlain, and in the western part of what is now the Fourth Circuit would have been the district of Cumberland. Whatever administrative sense this arrangement might have made, it ran counter to the strong preference that federal courts have ties to the states in which they are located.
To observers today, the most curious aspect of the 1789 Judiciary Act was Congresss decision to create a major federal trial court but not to create any separate judgeships for it. The Act directed the two Supreme Court justices assigned to each circuit to travel to the designated places of holding circuit court, to be joined there by the district judge. This requirement, along with a sparse Supreme Court caseload in the early period, meant that the early Supreme Court justices spent most of their time serving as trial judges. Circuit riding was common in the states. It was attractive to Congress for three reasons. First, it saved the money a separate corps of judges would require. In 1792, the Georgia district court judge reported that Congress declined to create separate circuit judgeships partly because “the public mind was not sufficiently impressed with the importance of a steady, uniform, and prompt administration of justice,” and partly because “money matters have so strong a hold on the thoughts and personal feelings of men, that everything else seems little in comparison.” Second, circuit riding exposed the justices to the state laws they would interpret on the Supreme Court and to legal practices around the country it let them “mingle in the strife of jury trials,” as a defender of circuit riding said in 1864. Third, it contributed to what today we call “nation building.” It would, according to Attorney General Edmund Randolph, “impress the citizens of the United States favorably toward the general government, should the most distinguished judges visit every state.” (In fact, they did more than visit. The justices grand jury charges explained the new regime to prominent citizens all over the country, winning praise from the Federalist press and barbs from the Jeffersonian press. Whatever logic supported circuit riding, the justices themselves set about almost immediately to abolish it. They saw themselves as “traveling postboys.” They doubted, in the words of a Senate ally, “that riding rapidly from one end of this country to another is the best way to study law.” Furthermore, they warned President Washington, trial judges who serve also as appellate judges are sometimes required to “correct in one capacity the errors which they themselves may have committed in another . . . a distinction unfriendly to impartial justice.” The 1789 Act prohibited district judges from voting as circuit judges in appeals from their district court decisions but placed no similar prohibition on Supreme Court justices. The justices themselves agreed to recluse themselves from appeals from their own decisions unless there was a split vote (a rare occurrence). Congresss only response to their complaints was a 1793 statute reducing to one the number `of justices necessary for a circuit court quorum.
Nowdays many things that the First Judiciary Act required have been swept aside. But other features it provided are so intrinsic to US system of justice that the Americans rarely give them a second thought: a separate set of courts for the national government, arranged geographically according to state boundaries, deciding matters of national interest. When the Act was approaching its third year, Chief Justice John Jay, sitting as a judge of the Circuit Court for the Eastern Circuit, undertook in his charge to the grand juries of that circuit to describe something of this new system of federal courts. Those who created the federal courts faced a formidable task, he observed, because “no tribunals of the like kind and extent had heretofore existed in this country.” In that environment of experimentation, Jay reminded the grand jurors and his words could well be a charter for contemporary efforts that “the expediency of carrying justice, as it were, to every mans door, was obvious; but how to do it in an expedient manner was far from being apparent.”