Limited Anti-Federalists Concerns to the Federal Judiciary

Similar to the federal convention, the debates on the ratification of the Constitution did not spend much time debating the federal court system. The primary contention of the anti-federalists was the concern the federal court system would basically eliminate state courts. Brutus and the Federal Farmer believed the federal courts would eventually have full jurisdiction thus severely crippling state’s rights. The other major concern expressed was the lack of right to jury trials, but I am focusing on the general responsibilities of the Supreme Court, especially judicial interpretation.

On judicial interpretation specifically, Brutus (XV) did not believe courts should have the authority to deem laws unconstitutional nor were they “vested with power of giving equitable construction to the Constitution.” An equitable construction is a broad construction versus strict construction. Brutus was basing his philosophy on the court system in England, which makes sense since the US was setting up a similar common law system.

I was hoping there would be more discussion regarding the expectations of the Supreme Court, but I guess neither the federalists nor the anti-federalists really had any idea what to expect at this time. Brutus’s addressing the fact the courts in England did not have the authority to interpret the Constitution broadly is interesting, but in context I am not sure what this means. I understand the idea of the Court not having the authority to deem a law unconstitutional, thus making the law void as this was not possible in the English assize courts.

I will be interested to see if either of these issues are addressed by any of the federalist papers or any other the supporting documents.


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