It reorganized the circuit courts, doubling them in number from three to six, and created three new circuit judgeships for each circuit (except the sixth, which received only one circuit judge). In addition to creating new lifetime posts for Federalist judges, the circuit judgeships were intended to relieve the justices of the Supreme Court from the hardships of riding circuit (that is, sitting as judges on the circuit courts). The circuit judgeships were abolished in 1802, and the justices continued to ride circuit until 1869. One of the Adams' appointed judges on the Supreme Court was Chief Justice John Marshall.
It also reorganized the district courts, creating ten additional courts. These courts were to be presided over by the existing district judges in most cases. In addition to subdividing several of the existing district courts, it created the District of Ohio which covered the Northwest and Indiana Territories, and the District of Potomac from the District of Columbia and pieces of Maryland and Virginia, which was the first time a federal judicial district crossed state lines. However, the district courts for Kentucky and Tennessee were abolished, and their judges reassigned to the circuit courts.
In addition, it gave the circuit courts jurisdiction to hear "all cases in law or equity, arising under the constitution and laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority." This form of jurisdiction, now known as federal question jurisdiction, had not previously been granted to the federal courts.
In the nineteen days between passage of this Act and the conclusion of his administration, President Adams quickly filled as many of the newly created circuit judgeships as possible. The new judges were known as the "Midnight Judges" because Adams was said to be signing their appointments at midnight prior to President Thomas Jefferson's inauguration. (Actually, only three commissions were signed on his last day.) The famous Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison involved one of these "midnight" appointments, although it was an appointment to a judgeship of the District of Columbia, which was authorized under a different Act of Congress, not the Judiciary Act.
Attempts to solve this situation before and throughout the presidency of John Adams were overshadowed by more pressing foreign and domestic issues that occupied Congress during the early years of the nation’s development. None of those attempts to fix the situation facing the Supreme Court was successful until John Adams took control in 1797.
Faced with the Election of 1800, a watershed moment in American history that represented not only the struggle to correctly organize the foundation of the United States government but also the culmination of struggle between the waning Federalist Party and the rising Republican Party, John Adams successfully reorganized the nation’s court system with the Judiciary Act of 1801. Adams was and is often attacked for undercutting the newly elected Republican executive branch by creating more positions for Federalist judges. There are arguments supporting both Adams’s sincerity in simply trying to create what the Supreme Court had supported for so long and Adams’s efforts to fill the court with Federalists before he left office.
The results of this election favored Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr over John Adams, but each with 73 electoral votes. Presented with a tie, the House of Representatives, which was dominated by Federalists and led by Alexander Hamilton, decided the election in favor of Thomas Jefferson. Republicans also won control of the legislative branch of government after the congressional elections.
Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated March 4, 1801 without the presence of President John Adams. Jefferson's inaugural address attempted to appease the Federalists by promising to maintain the strength of the federal government and to pay off the national debt. Jefferson spoke of dangerous “entangling alliances” with foreign countries as George Washington did, and made a plea for national unity claiming that “we are all Republicans and we are all Federalists.” After elected, Jefferson set out to rescind the Judiciary Act of 1801 and remove newly appointed Federalists.