Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 13

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Chapter 13. Records of the Committee on the Judiciary and Related Committees, 1816-1968

Records of the Committee on the Judiciary and Related Committees, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on the Judiciary and Related Committees, 1816-1968 (3,529 ft.)
Motion for the appointment of standing committees, 12/05/1816
Motion for the appointment of standing committees, December 5, 1816 (SEN14A-B6) from NARA's National Archives Catalog.  

13.1 The Committee on the Judiciary is one of the original standing committees of the Senate, authorized on December 10, 1816, with the approval of a resolution introduced by James Barbour of Virginia. Dudley Chase of Vermont was appointed the first chairman of the committee. The committee has met during each Congress since the 14th Congress.

13.2 Initially the committee focused on measures concerning the courts, law enforcement, and judicial administration. These subjects have remained at the core of the committee's jurisdiction. However, over the years its responsibility for other jurisdictional areas has changed in several ways. By 1820, controversies over bankruptcy policy, State boundaries, admission of new States to the Union, and contested Senate elections were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Some of these jurisdictional responsibilities were subject to change. After the dissolution of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in 1867, the committee was responsible for legislation relating to the restoration of the former Confederate States to the Union. In 1871, jurisdiction over contested Senate elections was assigned to the Committee on Privileges and Elections, which became a subcommittee of the Committee on Rules and Administration after enactment of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601).

13.3 The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 also restored to the committee's jurisdiction several subjects that were once under its purview but had at different times in the 19th century been assigned to other committees. Legislation controlling the apportionment of the House of Representatives had been considered by the Judiciary Committee as early as the 17th Congress (1821-23), but jurisdiction was later transferred to the Committee on Commerce, which retained it until 1946. Jurisdiction over patents, trademarks, and copyrights was lost to the Committee on Patents in 1837 and matters relating to immigration were assigned to the Committee on Immigration in 1889, but were restored to the Judiciary Committee in 1946.

13.4 From the late 1860's until 1882, when the Senate established a select committee on woman suffrage, the Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction over proposals concerning women's right to vote in Federal elections. In 1921, the standing Committee on Woman Suffrage was eliminated because the 19th Amendment had been ratified the previous year, rendering the committee unnecessary.

13.5 During the first decades of its existence, the Judiciary Committee also considered private claims, but much of its responsibility for these was taken by the Committee on Claims and the Committee on Revolutionary Claims. Although the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 added jurisdiction over claims to the Judiciary Committee's responsibility when it eliminated the Committee on Claims, records of claims committees are described separately.

13.6 Since 1947, the Judiciary Committee has also made extensive use of its standing and special subcommittees to consider legislation and to conduct investigations of a wide range of matters. The records include extensive collections of material from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee, and the Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee, as well as smaller amounts for many others.

13.7 The History of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 1816-1981 (S. Doc. 18, 97th Cong., 1st sess., Serial 13389) provides a brief historical overview of the committee, biographical sketches of its chairmen, lists of members alphabetically and by State, and activity reports for the 80th through 97th Congresses.

13.8 This chapter describes the records of the Committee on the Judiciary and its many subcommittees (2,221 ft.), records of the Committee on the Revision of the Laws (3 in.), records of the Committee on Patents (26 ft.), records of the Committee on Immigration (36 ft.), and records of the select and standing Committees on Woman Suffrage (1 ft.).

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.