United States Circuit Court
The United States circuit courts were the original intermediate level courts of the United States federal court system. They were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They had trial court jurisdiction over civil suits of diversity jurisdiction and major federal crimes. They also had appellate jurisdiction over the United States district courts. The Judiciary Act of 1891 (26 Stat. 826, also known as the Evarts Act) transferred their appellate jurisdiction to the newly created United States circuit courts of appeals, which are now known as the United States courts of appeals. On January 1, 1912, the effective date of the Judicial Code of 1911, the circuit courts were abolished, with their remaining trial court jurisdiction transferred to the U.S. district courts.
During the 100 years that the Justices of the Supreme Court "rode circuit", many justices complained about the effort required. Riding circuit took a great deal of time (about 1/2 of the year) and was both physically demanding and dangerous. However, "members of Congress held firm to the belief that circuit riding benefited the justices and the populace, and they turned a deaf ear to the corps of justices that desired to abolish the practice".
The Judiciary Act of 1869 established a separate circuit court (and allowed the hiring of judges specifically to handle the cases) but the act required that Supreme Court judges had to ride circuit once every two years. However, this came to a final end in 1891 when the Circuit Courts of Appeals Act was passed.
The net result of riding circuit was that, in many cases which ended up before the Supreme Court, a member of the Supreme Court had already heard the case and issued a ruling. In a real sense, the Supreme Court was, in such cases, acting as an en banc panel; i.e. hearing a case upon which one of their members had already passed judgment.
Read more about United States Circuit Court: Organization, Judges
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