Circuit Courts of Appeals Act 26 Stat. 826 (1891)

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The first substantial revision of the federal court system since its formation (except for the abortive judiciary act of 1801), this act established a badly needed level of courts just below the Supreme Court: the united states courts of appeals. Senator william evarts led the reform movement to relieve pressure on the Supreme Court docket by providing intermediate appellate review for most district and circuit court decisions. By keeping the circuit courts but abolishing their appellate jurisdiction, Congress maintained two courts with substantially similar jurisdiction, causing confusion until the circuit courts were abolished in the judicial code of 1911. The act established direct Supreme Court review, bypassing the courts of appeals, in cases of "infamous" crimes (an ill-considered description that actually increased the Court's business and had to be deleted in 1897), and introduced the principle of discretionary Supreme Court review by writ of certiorari.

The basic structure of today's system of appellate review of federal court decisions remains as it was established in the 1891 Act.

David Gordon


Frankfurter, Felix and Landis, James M. 1927 The Business of the Supreme Court. New York: Macmillan.