Ellsworth, Paterson, and the other members of the Special Judiciary Committee worked a little over two months drafting the judiciary bill. Richard Henry Lee introduced the measure in the Senate on June 12. Oddly enough, Lee later voted against the bill after unsuccessfully proposing an amendment to limit the jurisdiction of district courts to admiralty and maritime cases. At the same time that the Congress considered the bill, it also debated the first 12 amendments to the Constitution. Consequently, the final form of the Act was shaped by the limits on federal power imposed by the Bill of Rights.
Although Ellsworth considered the bill "a proper arrangement of the Judiciary," others were not so enthusiastic. James Madison, a Congressman from Virginia, viewed it as "defective both in its general structure, and many of its particular regulations. Senator William Grayson, also of Virginia, called the Act "monstrous." Another Senator concluded it was "defective in point of arrangement," as well as "obscurely drawn or expressed." But few surpassed William Maclay in disgust over the bill. "It was fabricated by a knot of lawyers," he complained, "who joined hue and cry to run down any person who will venture to say one word about it." On July 17, he noted in his journal that "it certainly is a vile law system, calculated for expense and with a design to draw by degrees all law business into the Federal courts. The Constitution is meant to swallow all the State Constitutions by degrees, and thus to swallow, by degrees, all the State judiciaries." Maclay's main objection to the bill centered on the lack of provision for juries in equity cases before circuit courts. Claiming that this resembled too closely the chancery courts at the county level, he tried on several occasions to amend the bill to allow for juries, but his efforts ultimately met defeat. Other Senators had better luck in changing the bill.
Although the scope and number of these amendments lie beyond the reach of this article, the general focus of the revisions was to limit the powers of the federal government over the rights of the states, yet to leave the national government powerful enough to conduct its business. As Warren concluded in his legislative history of the Act, its final form "was a compromise measure so framed as to secure the votes of those who, while willing to see the experiment of a Federal Constitution tried, were insistent that the Federal Courts should be given the minimum powers and jurisdiction."
After extensive debate, the bill was approved by the Senate on July 17, 1789, by a vote of 14 to six. Three of the ten members of the Special Judiciary Committee voted against the bill, including Lee, Maclay, and Wingate. They were joined in opposition by Grayson, John Langdon of New Hampshire, and Pierce Butler of South Carolina.
The House took up the bill on July 20, but its consideration was delayed almost six weeks because of the debates over the first 12 amendments to the Constitution. Eventually, the House suggested at least 52 amendments to the judiciary bill, but most of these changes were minor in nature. All but five were accepted by the Senate. On September 21, Congress approved the Judiciary Act and Washington signed it into law on September 24.