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“United States Expansion and the Railroads, 1880” map, The American Nation, Vol., 23, 1907

During the nineteenth century the U.S. population boomed and the economy soared as technological developments fed industrial growth. Western territories were admitted to the Union. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 marked the emergence of railway conglomerates that vastly increased interstate commerce and legal disputes.

Florida Center for Instructional Technology

United States Expansion and the Railroads

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