Origins of the Federal Court System

Judiciary Act of 1789 and the Lower Federal Courts

What law created the U.S. Courts of Appeals that exists today?

Congress created nine circuit courts of appeals by the Judiciary Act of 1891, also called the Evarts Act, named after U.S. senator William Evarts of New York. These new circuit court of appeals featured three judges each. A court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit was added in 1893; a court of appeals for the Tenth Circuit was added in 1929; and the Eleventh Circuit was added in 1980 by dividing the existing Fifth Circuit into two parts. In 1982, the Court created the Federal Circuit, which hears specialized appeals in patent and civil personnel cases among others. The Evarts Act essentially established the basic model for the modern-day federal judicial system.

William Maxwell Evarts, best known for serving as President Andrew Johnson’s counsel during his impeachment proceedings. He also was a U.S. senator and served in the Abraham Lincoln and Rutherford B. Hayes administrations. Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Library of Congress.

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