Origins of the Federal Court System

Judiciary Act of 1789 and the Lower Federal Courts

How does the system created by the Founding Fathers compare with the current federal court system?

The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the same three-tiered court system of federal district courts, federal circuits, and U.S. Supreme Court that exists today. The Evarts Act modernized the system by actually placing new judges on the circuit court appellate level, as opposed to staffing the circuit courts with district judges and U.S. Supreme Court justices. Now, there are ninety-four federal district courts, thirteen federal circuit courts of appeals, and one U.S. Supreme Court composed of nine justices. One major difference in the current system from the 1789 system is that now there are separate judges on the federal circuit courts of appeals. Another major difference is that the circuit courts of appeals are appellate courts; they no longer function as trial courts.


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