The US courts of appeal


THE U.S. COURTS OF APPEALS The courts of appeals receive less media coverage than the Supreme Court, but they are very important in the U.S. judicial system. Considering that the Supreme Court hands down decisions with full opinions in only 80 to 90 cases each year, it is apparent that the courts of appeals are the courts of last resort for most appeals in the federal court system. Circuit Courts: 1789-1891 The Judiciary Act of 1789 created three circuit courts (courts of appeals), each composed of two justices of the Supreme Court and a district judge. The circuit court was to hold two sessions each year in each district within the circuit. 

The district judge became primarily responsible for establishing the circuit court’s workload. The two Supreme Court justices then came into the local area and participated in the cases. This practice tended to give a local rather than national focus to the circuit courts. The circuit court system was regarded from the beginning as unsatisfactory, especially by Supreme Court justices, who objected to the traveling imposed upon them. Attorney General Edmund Randolph and President Washington urged relief for the Supreme Court justices. Congress made a slight change in 1793 by altering the circuit court organization to include only one 

Supreme Court justice and one district judge. In the closing days of President John Adams’s administration in 1801, Congress eliminated circuit riding by the Supreme Court justices, authorized the appointment of 16 new circuit judges, and greatly extended the jurisdiction of the lower courts. The new administration of Thomas Jefferson strongly opposed this action, and Congress repealed it. The Circuit Court Act of 1802 restored circuit riding by Supreme Court justices and expanded the number of circuits. However, the legislation allowed the circuit court to be presided over by a single district judge. Such a change may seem slight, but it proved to be of great importance. Increasingly, the district judges began to assume responsibility for both district and circuit courts. In practice, then, original and appellate jurisdiction were both in the hands of the district judges. 

The next major step in the development of the courts of appeals did not come until 1869, when Congress approved a measure that authorized the appointment of nine new circuit judges and reduced the Supreme Court justices’ circuit court duty to one term every two years. Still, the High Court was flooded with cases because there were no limitations on the right of appeal to the Supreme Court. The Courts of Appeals: 1891 to the Present On March 3, 1891, the Evarts Act was signed into law, creating new courts known as circuit courts of appeals. These new tribunals were to hear most of the appeals from district courts. The old circuit courts, which had existed since 1789, also remained. The new circuit court of appeals was to consist of one circuit judge, one circuit court of appeals judge 

one  district judge, and a Supreme Court justice. Two judges constituted a quorum in these new courts. Following passage of the Evarts Act, the federal judiciary had two trial tribunals: district courts and circuit courts. It also had two appellate tribunals: circuit courts of appeals and the Supreme Court. Most appeals of trial decisions were to go to the circuit court of appeals, although the act also allowed direct review in some instances by the Supreme Court. In short, creation of the circuit courts of appeals released the Supreme Court from many petty types of cases. 

Appeals could still be made, but the High Court would now have much greater control over its own workload. Much of its former caseload was thus shifted to the two lower levels of the federal judiciary. The next step in the evolution of the courts of appeals came in 1911. In that year Congress passed legislation abolishing the old circuit courts, 

which had no appellate jurisdiction and frequently duplicated the functions of district courts. Today the intermediate appellate tribunals are officially known as courts of appeals, but they continue

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