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[edit]

Judge[2] Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Bassett, RichardRichard Bassett Third February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Bee, ThomasThomas Bee Fifth Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[3]
Benson, EgbertEgbert Benson Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[4]
Bourne, BenjaminBenjamin Bourne First February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Clay, JosephJoseph Clay Fifth Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Griffith, WilliamWilliam Griffith Third February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Hall, DominicDominic Hall Fifth July 1, 1801
Recess
July 1, 1802 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
Harris, EdwardEdward Harris Fifth May 3, 1802 July 1, 1802 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
Hitchcock, SamuelSamuel Hitchcock Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Ingersoll, JaredJared Ingersoll Third Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[4]
Key, PhilipPhilip Key Fourth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[5]
Lee, CharlesCharles Lee Forth Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[4]
Lowell, JohnJohn Lowell First February 20, 1801 May 6, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[4]
Magill, CharlesCharles Magill Fourth March 3, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
McClung, WilliamWilliam McClung Sixth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Potter, HenryHenry Potter Fifth May 9, 1801
Recess
April 7, 1802 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
Sitgreaves, JohnJohn Sitgreaves Fifth Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Smith, JeremiahJeremiah Smith First February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Taylor, GeorgeGeorge Taylor Fourth February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Tilghman, WilliamWilliam Tilghman Third March 3, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[6]
Wolcott, OliverOliver Wolcott Second February 20, 1801 July 1, 1802 Adams, JohnJohn Adams

Judges of the D.C. Circuit[edit]

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Cranch, WilliamWilliam Cranch D.C. February 28, 1801 February 24, 1806 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
February 24, 1806 September 1, 1855 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
(as chief judge)[note 1]
Duckett, AllenAllen Duckett D.C. March 17, 1806 July 19, 1809 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
Dunlop, JamesJames Dunlop D.C. October 3, 1845
Recess
November 27, 1855 Polk, JamesJames Polk
November 27, 1855
Recess
March 3, 1863 Pierce, FranklinFranklin Pierce
(as chief judge)[note 1]
Fitzhugh, NicholasNicholas Fitzhugh D.C. November 25, 1803 December 31, 1814 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
Johnson, ThomasThomas Johnson D.C. Declined Adams, JohnJohn Adams
(as chief judge)[7]
Kilty, WilliamWilliam Kilty D.C. March 23, 1801
Recess
January 27, 1806 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson
(as chief judge)
Marshall, JamesJames Marshall D.C. March 3, 1801 November 16, 1803 Adams, JohnJohn Adams
Merrick, WilliamWilliam Merrick D.C. December 14, 1855 March 3, 1863 Pierce, FranklinFranklin Pierce
Morsell, JamesJames Morsell D.C. January 11, 1815 March 3, 1863 Madison, JamesJames Madison
Thruston, BucknerBuckner Thruston D.C. December 14, 1809 August 30, 1845 Madison, JamesJames Madison

Circuit court judges appointed pursuant to the 1869 Act[edit]

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
Acheson, MarcusMarcus Acheson Third February 3, 1891 June 16, 1891[note 2] Harrison, BenjaminBenjamin Harrison
Baxter, JohnJohn Baxter Sixth December 13, 1877 April 2, 1886 Hayes, RutherfordRutherford Hayes
Blatchford, SamuelSamuel Blatchford Second March 4, 1878 March 22, 1882 Hayes, RutherfordRutherford Hayes
Bond, HughHugh Bond Fourth July 13, 1870 June 16, 1891[note 2] Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Brewer, DavidDavid Brewer Eighth March 31, 1884 December 18, 1889 Arthur, ChesterChester Arthur
Caldwell, HenryHenry Caldwell Eighth March 4, 1890 June 16, 1891[note 2] Harrison, BenjaminBenjamin Harrison
Colt, LeBaronLeBaron Colt First July 5, 1884 June 16, 1891[note 2] Arthur, ChesterChester Arthur
Dillon, JohnJohn Dillon Eighth December 22, 1869 September 1, 1879 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Drummond, ThomasThomas Drummond Seventh December 22, 1869 July 18, 1884 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Emmons, HalmerHalmer Emmons Sixth January 17, 1870 May 14, 1877 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Gresham, WalterWalter Gresham Seventh October 28, 1884
Recess
June 16, 1891[note 2] Arthur, ChesterChester Arthur
Jackson, HowellHowell Jackson Sixth April 12, 1886 June 16, 1891[note 2] Cleveland, GroverGrover Cleveland
Johnson, AlexanderAlexander Johnson Second October 25, 1875
Recess
January 26, 1878 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Lacombe, EmileEmile Lacombe Second May 26, 1887
Recess
June 16, 1891[note 2] Cleveland, GroverGrover Cleveland
Lowell, JohnJohn Lowell First December 18, 1878 May 1, 1884 Hayes, RutherfordRutherford Hayes
McCrary, GeorgeGeorge McCrary Eighth December 9, 1879 March 18, 1884 Hayes, RutherfordRutherford Hayes
McKennan, WilliamWilliam McKennan Third December 22, 1869 January 3, 1891 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Pardee, DonDon Pardee Fifth May 13, 1881 June 16, 1891[note 2] Garfield, JamesJames Garfield
Sawyer, LorenzoLorenzo Sawyer Ninth January 10, 1870 June 16, 1891[note 2] Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Shepley, GeorgeGeorge Shepley First December 22, 1869 July 20, 1878 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Wallace, WilliamWilliam Wallace Second April 16, 1882 June 16, 1891[note 2] Arthur, ChesterChester Arthur
Woodruff, LewisLewis Woodruff Second December 22, 1869 September 10, 1875 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant
Woods, WilliamWilliam Woods Fifth December 22, 1869 December 23, 1880 Grant, UlyssesUlysses Grant

Circuit court judge of California[edit]

Judge Circuit Began service Ended service Appointed by
McAllister, MatthewMatthew McAllister California March 3, 1855 January 12, 1863 Pierce, FranklinFranklin 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]

External links[edit]