U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, as it appeared around 1916.
Congress created a new judicial circuit in 1929 to accommodate the increased caseload in the federal courts. Between 1866 and 1912, twelve new states had entered the Union and been incorporated into the Eighth and Ninth Circuits. The Eighth Circuit encompassed 13 states and had become the largest in the nation.
Chief Justice William Howard Taft suggested the reorganization of the Eighth Circuit Court in response to widespread opposition in 1928 to a proposal to reorganize the nation's entire circuit structure. The original plan had sprung from an American Bar Association committee in 1925 and would have changed the composition of all but two circuits.
The House of Representatives considered two proposals to divide the existing Eighth Circuit. A bill by Representative Walter Newton would separate the circuit's eastern and western states. An alternate proposal divided the northern from the southern states. With the judges and bar of the existing Eighth Circuit for Newton's bill and little opposition to dividing the circuit, lawmakers focused on providing for more judgeships and meeting places of the circuit courts of appeals in their deliberations.
Chief judges have administrative responsibilities with respect to their circuits, and preside over any panel on which they serve unless the circuit justice (i.e., the Supreme Court justice responsible for the circuit) is also on the panel. Unlike the Supreme Court, where one justice is specifically nominated to be chief, the office of chief judge rotates among the circuit judges. To be chief, a judge must have been in active service on the court for at least one year, be under the age of 65, and have not previously served as chief judge. A vacancy is filled by the judge highest in seniority among the group of qualified judges. The chief judge serves for a term of seven years or until age 70, whichever occurs first. The age restrictions are waived if no members of the court would otherwise be qualified for the position.
When the office was created in 1948, the chief judge was the longest-serving judge who had not elected to retire on what has since 1958 been known as senior status or declined to serve as chief judge. After August 6, 1959, judges could not become or remain chief after turning 70 years old. The current rules have been in operation since October 1, 1982.
The court has twelve seats for active judges, numbered in the order in which they were initially filled. Judges who assume senior status enter a kind of retirement in which they remain on the bench, while vacating their seats, thus allowing the U.S. President to appoint new judges to fill their seats.
^ abcEstablishment of the Tenth Judicial Circuit: "An Act To amend sections 116, 118, 126 of the Judicial Code, as amended, to divide the eighth judicial circuit of the United States, and to create a tenth judicial circuit." Federal Judiciary History. FJC.gov. Retrieved September 24, 2009.