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The Evarts Act: Creating the Modern Appellate Courts

The Evarts Act of 1891 accomplished the following:

Created Courts of Appeals by Region/Circuit

Congress, in the Judiciary Act of 1891, commonly known as the Evarts Act, established nine Courts of Appeals, one for each judicial circuit at the time. The Act created another judge position for each circuit, identified in the legislation as the circuit justice.  Appeals from trial court decisions were heard by three-judge panels made up of the circuit justice, a court of appeals judge, and a district court judge. The Act recognized nine circuits.  Today 12 Circuits hear appeals. 

Fast Fact: The Evarts Act established the structure of the appellate courts -- one Court of Appeals in every Circuit. Over time, Congress expanded the types of cases appellate courts could hear.

Established the Role of the U.S. Courts of Appeals

The U.S. Courts of Appeals were the first federal courts designed exclusively to hear cases on appeal from trial courts. Creating the appellate courts in 1891 was an effort to relieve the Supreme Court’s overwhelming caseload by dealing with the dramatic increase in federal appeals filings.

Fast Fact: By increasing the number of appellate courts, the Evarts Act made possible and feasible the right to appeal trial court decisions. 

Gave Appellate Courts Jurisdiction Over Most Appeals

The Evarts Act gave the U.S. Courts of Appeals jurisdiction over the great majority of appeals from trial court decisions. The Act sharply limited the categories of cases that routinely could be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Judiciary Act of 1925 and later statutes continued that trend while expanding the jurisdiction of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. By the 1930s, the appellate courts’ jurisdiction included administrative appeals of decisions made by federal regulatory agencies.

Fast Fact: The Evarts Act limited the types of cases that routinely could be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.  It gave the U.S. Courts of Appeals jurisdiction over the rest of the cases.

Set the Stage for Internal Governance of the System by Judges

The 1922 law that established the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges was the forerunner of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative body of the federal courts.  It gave the senior judge in each circuit official administrative authority over the district courts in each circuit. Congress expanded the administrative responsibilities of Courts of Appeals judges in 1939 with the creation of the Circuit Judicial Councils. 

Fast Fact: Laws passed by Congress after the Evarts Act set up a model of  self-governance for the Circuit Courts that has evolved into the governance structure of the federal court system today.