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
United States district court
The United States district courts are the trial courts of the U.S. federal judiciary. There is one district court for each federal judicial district, which each cover one U.S. state or, in some cases, a portion of a state. Each district co ...
s. The Judiciary Act of 1891
(, 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
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal judiciary. The courts of appeals are divided into 11 numbered circuits that cover geographic areas of the United States and hear appeals fr ...
. On January 1, 1912, the effective date of the
Judicial Code of 1911
The Judicial Code of 1911 () abolished the United States circuit courts and transferred their trial jurisdiction to the U.S. district courts.
In 1911, the United States Congress created a single code encompassing all statutes related to the judic ...
, 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 U.S. Supreme Court
" rode circuit
", many justices complained about the effort required.
Riding circuit took a great deal of time (about half 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."
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 justices 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.] [
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 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 was not abolished until the creation of the intermediate courts of appeals in 1891.
In 1801, Congress attempted for the first time in its history to relieve the Supreme Court justices of this burden by enacting the
Judiciary Act of 1801
The Midnight Judges Act (also known as the Judiciary Act of 1801; , and officially An act to provide for the more convenient organization of the Courts of the United States) represented an effort to solve an issue in the U.S. Supreme Court during t ..., commonly known as the Midnight Judges Act, but that proved to be highly controversial as the Act took effect with only 19 days remaining in John Adams
John Adams (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801. Before his presidency, he was a leader of ...'s Federalist administration. Before the oppositional Democratic-Republican administration of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809. He was previously the natio ... took power, Adams took advantage of the Act to nominate several new federal judges expected to support the Federalist agenda. Although Jefferson also nominated a few judges, the Act was repealed after only one year because Jefferson feared the judiciary would become too powerful.
The same act also created the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, a "circuit court" for the District of Columbia
, image_skyline =
, image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, United States Capitol, Logan Circle (Washington, D.C.), Logan Circle, Jefferson Memoria .... 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 also exercised 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.
Since each circuit court was initially staffed by sharing judges between the U.S. Supreme Court and each federal district court, the district court clerk usually acted as the circuit court clerk. This arrangement persisted for many years in most federal judicial districts, even after Congress authorized the appointment of circuit judges in 1869 and allowed such judges to appoint a clerk without the concurrence of the district court judge.
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:
# 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.
# Judges appointed to the D.C. Circuit, abolished on March 3, 1863
# 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
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal judiciary. The courts of appeals are divided into 11 numbered circuits that cover geographic areas of the United States and hear appeals fr ... by operation of law, that is, without action on the part of the President.
# 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 Supreme Court.
Circuit court judges appointed pursuant to the Midnight Judges Act
Judges of the D.C. Circuit
Circuit court judges appointed pursuant to the 1869 Act
Circuit court judge of California
* List of presidents of the United States by judicial appointments
Federal Judicial Center
1789 establishments in the United States
1911 disestablishments in the United States
Courts and tribunals disestablished in 1911
Courts and tribunals established in 1789