September 2016

125th Anniversary of the
U.S. Court of Appeals

Happy birthday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, created 125 years ago by the Evarts Act in 1891!
While a three-tier federal court system was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, that system did not include the U.S. courts of appeals. It included the U.S. district courts, the U.S. circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court (established by Article III of the Constitution).
During the early period of the federal judiciary, the federal district and circuit courts were both trial courts. The circuit courts served as the main trial courts and as the appellate courts for district court cases. The Supreme Court served as the court of final appeal.
The appellate cases for a particular circuit court were heard by panels of two to three judges, who served on the Supreme Court, district court, and circuit court.
The Supreme Court justices traveled throughout the circuits, often on horseback, to hear the appellate cases in the circuit courts. As federal filings increased dramatically during the 19th century, the burden on the circuit-riding justices grew. To alleviate this burden and better handle the caseloads, in 1891, Congress created the U.S. circuit courts of appeals, one for each of the thennine circuits. These courts, renamed the U.S. courts of appeals in 1948, were the first federal courts designed exclusively to hear cases on appeal from the federal trial courts.
The creation of the appeals courts ended the appellate jurisdiction of the circuit courts, which continued as trial courts until January 1, 1912, when they were abolished according to the terms of the Judicial Code of 1911.