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The Federal Judiciary System, 1891

The 1891 Circuit Court of Appeals Act (Evarts Act) established intermediary courts to hear many kinds of appeals previously designated for the Supreme Court. A trio of circuit court and district court judges presided over each circuit court of appeals. Their decisions were final for some types of litigation, easing the Supreme Court’s caseload and allowing justices more discretion over their docket.

The Federal Judiciary System

Congress Creates the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

As the nation expanded after the Civil War, increasing interstate litigation threatened to overwhelm the Supreme Court. To reduce the court’s caseload, Congress in 1891 established circuit courts of appeals, which could hear most cases that previously would have gone to the Supreme Court. For the first time, the highest court had some freedom to select the cases and issues it would decide. It was Congress’s most significant innovation in the federal court system since the Judiciary Act of 1789.

What is the plain, imperative duty of Congress . . . ? It is to provide adequate judicial machinery for the prompt transaction of the business of the Federal courts. If this is not done, these courts, instead of . . . affording speedy and impartial justice . . . will become . . . instruments of oppression

Senator Joseph Dolph of Oregon, “Doubts About Relief Provided by Appeals Courts,” Speech to the U.S. Senate, September 19, 1890