When and Why Were the Courts of Appeals Created?

were-courts-appeals-created Credit: Jeffrey Beall/CC-BY-SA 2.0

When the caseload of the Supreme Court became overwhelming and federal court filings began to increase exponentially, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1891, also known as the Evarts Act, to establish nine courts of appeal.

The appellate courts would hear cases appealed at the circuit court level. Each appellate court consisted of a three-judge panel, including the existing circuit judge, one newly appointed judge and the circuit justice or a district judge of that circuit.

These courts of appeals took jurisdiction over a great majority of the cases formerly heard by the Supreme Court and limited the types of cases that were approved to be tried in the Supreme Court. Future statutes,

including the Judiciary Act of 1925, further narrowed those cases and increased the cases that were heard by the appellate courts.

As the appellate courts grew in size and number, the three-judge panel became filled by appointments so that district judges were no longer needed. Additional courts of appeals were added in 1929, 1980 and 1982, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was created. This court combined the jurisdictions of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the U.S. Court of Claims. As of 2014, there are 179 judges appointed to 13 appellate courts.