United States circuit court

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Not to be confused with the current United States courts of appeals.

The United States circuit courts were the original intermediate level courts of the United States federal court system. They were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They had trial court jurisdiction over civil suits of diversity jurisdiction and major federal crimes. They also had appellate jurisdiction over the United States district courts. The Judiciary Act of 1891 (26 Stat. 826, also known as the Evarts Act) transferred their appellate jurisdiction to the newly created United States circuit courts of appeals, which are now known as the United States courts of appeals. On January 1, 1912, the effective date of the Judicial Code of 1911, the circuit courts were abolished, with their remaining trial court jurisdiction transferred to the U.S. district courts.

During the 100 years that the Justices of the Supreme Court "rode circuit", many justices complained about the effort required.[1] Riding circuit took a great deal of time (about 1/2 of the year) and was both physically demanding and dangerous. However, "members of Congress held firm to the belief that circuit riding benefited the justices and the populace, and they turned a deaf ear to the corps of justices that desired to abolish the practice".[1]

The Judiciary Act of 1869 established a separate circuit court (and allowed the hiring of judges specifically to handle the cases) but the act required that Supreme Court judges had to ride circuit once every two years. However, this came to a final end in 1891 when the Circuit Courts of Appeals Act was passed.[1]

The net result of riding circuit was that, in many cases which ended up before the Supreme Court, a member of the Supreme Court had already heard the case and issued a ruling. In a real sense, the Supreme Court was, in such cases, acting as an en banc panel; i.e. hearing a case upon which one of their members had already passed judgment.

Organization[edit]

Although the federal judicial districts were grouped into circuits, the circuit courts convened separately in each district and were designated by the name of the district (for example, the "U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts"), not by the name or number of the circuit. The designation of circuits served only for the purpose of designating the districts in which a particular Supreme Court justice, and later a circuit judge, would sit on the circuit court. The circuit court districts were usually, but not always, the same as the districts established for the district courts.

Each circuit court was composed initially of two Supreme Court justices and the district judge of the district, although in 1793 Congress provided that a quorum of one justice and one district judge could hold a court. After 1802, only one justice was assigned to each circuit, and a quorum could consist of a single justice or judge. This "circuit riding" arrangement meant that the Supreme Court justices spent the majority of the year traveling to each district within their circuit to conduct trials, and spent far less time assembled at the capital to hear appeals. The burden of circuit riding was somewhat alleviated by the appointment of circuit judges under the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, but not abolished until the creation of the intermediate courts of appeals in 1891.

In 1801, Congress created the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, a "circuit court" for the District of Columbia. This court had the same original jurisdiction and powers as the United States circuit courts but, unlike those courts, it continued to have its own judges even after the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, and had appellate jurisdiction over justices of the peace and other "local" courts of the District. The District of Columbia was not enumerated among the federal "circuits" at the time. This court was abolished in 1863.

Judges[edit]

Although any district court judge could be authorized to act as a circuit judge, only fifty judges solely designated as circuit court judges were ever appointed. These can be broadly categorized into four groups:

  1. Judges appointed pursuant to the Midnight Judges Act on or after February 20, 1801, and thereafter removed from office with the repeal of that Act on July 1, 1802.
  2. Judges appointed to the D.C. Circuit, abolished on March 3, 1863
  3. Judges appointed after 1869 pursuant to the Circuit Judges Act of 1869; those in office on June 16, 1891 were transferred to the newly created United States courts of appeals by operation of law, that is, without action on the part of the President.
  4. One judge appointed to the California circuit, established in 1855 and abolished on March 3, 1863.

Three circuit court judges, Samuel M. Blatchford, David Josiah Brewer, and William Burnham Woods, were later appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

Circuit court judges appointed pursuant to the Midnight Judges Act:

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Richard Bassett Third February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Egbert Benson Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Benjamin Bourne First February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Joseph Clay, Jr. Fifth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
William Griffith Third February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Dominic Augustin Hall Fifth January 26, 1802 July 1, 1802 Thomas Jefferson
Edward Harris Fifth May 3, 1802 July 1, 1802 Thomas Jefferson
Samuel Hitchcock Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Henry Potter Fifth January 26, 1802 April 7, 1802 Thomas Jefferson
Philip Barton Key Fourth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
John A. Lowell First February 20, 1801 May 6, 1802 John Adams
Charles Magill Fourth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Jeremiah Smith First February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
George Keith Taylor Fourth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
William McClung Sixth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
William Tilghman Third February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams
Oliver Wolcott, Jr. Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 John Adams

Judges of the D.C. Circuit:

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Allen Bowie Duckett D.C. March 17, 1806 July 19, 1809 Thomas Jefferson
James Dunlop D.C. February 3, 1846
November 27, 1855
November 27, 1855
March 3, 1863
James K. Polk
Franklin Pierce
(as chief judge)[note 1]
William Cranch D.C. February 28, 1801
February 24, 1806
February 24, 1806
September 1, 1855
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
(as chief judge)[note 1]
Nicholas Battalle Fitzhugh D.C. November 25, 1803 December 31, 1814 Thomas Jefferson
James Markham Marshall D.C. March 3, 1801 November 16, 1803 John Adams
William Kilty D.C. January 26, 1802 January 27, 1806 Thomas Jefferson
(as chief judge)
William Matthew Merrick D.C. December 14, 1855 March 3, 1863 Franklin Pierce
James Sewall Morsell D.C. January 11, 1815 March 3, 1863 James Madison
Buckner Thruston D.C. December 14, 1809 August 30, 1845 James Madison

Circuit court judges appointed pursuant to the 1869 Act:

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Marcus Wilson Acheson Third February 3, 1891 June 16, 1891[note 2] Benjamin Harrison
John Baxter Sixth December 13, 1877 April 2, 1886 Rutherford B. Hayes
Samuel M. Blatchford Second March 4, 1878 March 22, 1882 Rutherford B. Hayes
Hugh Lennox Bond Fourth July 13, 1870 June 16, 1891[note 2] Ulysses Grant
David Josiah Brewer Eighth March 31, 1884 January 6, 1890 Chester A. Arthur
Henry Clay Caldwell Eighth March 4, 1890 June 16, 1891[note 2] Benjamin Harrison
LeBaron Bradford Colt First July 5, 1884 June 16, 1891[note 2] Chester A. Arthur
John Forrest Dillon Eighth December 22, 1869 September 1, 1879 Ulysses Grant
Thomas Drummond Seventh December 22, 1869 July 18, 1884 Ulysses Grant
Halmer Hull Emmons Sixth January 17, 1870 May 14, 1877 Ulysses Grant
Walter Quintin Gresham Seventh December 9, 1884 June 16, 1891[note 2] Chester A. Arthur
Howell Edmunds Jackson Sixth April 12, 1886 June 16, 1891[note 2] Grover Cleveland
Alexander Smith Johnson Second December 15, 1875 January 26, 1878 Ulysses Grant
Emile Henry Lacombe Second February 28, 1888 June 16, 1891[note 2] Grover Cleveland
John Lowell First December 18, 1878 May 1, 1884 Rutherford B. Hayes
George Washington McCrary Eighth December 9, 1879 March 18, 1884 Rutherford B. Hayes
William McKennan Third December 22, 1869 January 3, 1891 Ulysses Grant
Don Albert Pardee Fifth May 13, 1881 June 16, 1891[note 2] James A. Garfield
Lorenzo Sawyer Ninth January 10, 1870 June 16, 1891[note 2] Ulysses Grant
George Foster Shepley First December 22, 1869 July 20, 1878 Ulysses Grant
William James Wallace Second April 6, 1882 June 16, 1891[note 2] Chester A. Arthur
Lewis Bartholomew Woodruff Second December 22, 1869 September 10, 1875 Ulysses Grant
William Burnham Woods Fifth December 22, 1869 December 23, 1880 Ulysses Grant

Circuit court judge of California:

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Matthew Hall McAllister California March 3, 1855 January 12, 1863 Franklin Pierce

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Because of the unique structure of the United States Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, the elevation of a sitting judge of the Court to chief judge of the Court is considered a separate appointment.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Transferred to the corresponding Court of Appeals by operation of law.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Glick, Joshua (April 2003). "Comment: On the Road: The Supreme Court and the History of Circuit Riding". Cardozo Law Review. 

External links[edit]