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Court Officers and Staff: Court Criers

The Supreme Court of the United States appointed a "Cryer" on the second day of its opening term in February 1790. Nine years later, Congress enacted a law (1 Stat. 626) directing the district and circuit courts to appoint such officers. The statute contained no description of the criers' duties, but these officers followed their predecessors in English and colonial courts by performing various ceremonial functions, such as introducing judges, calling witnesses to the stand, and announcing the opening and adjournment of court sessions.

Criers gradually assumed responsibility for waiting on juries, as well as other duties that belonged traditionally to bailiffs and marshals, such as providing protection to judges and witnesses when federal courts were in session. By the late-nineteenth century, the appointment of a crier was no longer mandatory, but most district and circuit courts continued to hire one or more of them to make proclamations, to maintain order in the courts, and to provide judges with assistance in the courtroom and in chambers. Congress limited each district court to one federally compensated crier in 1911, but in 1944 it authorized a crier for all district court judges, who increasingly relied on the criers as members of their personal staffs. The same statute specified that criers "shall perform also the duties of bailiff and messenger," and Congress simultaneously reduced the maximum number of bailiffs from five to four.

By 1952 there were 226 criers serving in the federal courts, and according to a report of the Judicial Conference Committee on Supporting Personnel, they were not only serving as bailiffs and messengers, assisting the judges, and maintaining order in the courts, but they were carrying out "many of the functions formerly performed by United States Marshals, such as taking charge of juries." In 1959 district court judges were also authorized to hire judicial law clerks, but Congress allowed the judges to designate qualified criers as "crier-law clerks" and to provide them with additional compensation.

In 1982 Congress authorized each court of appeals to appoint a crier. Although district judges retain such authority, few court criers remain in the federal judicial system, since most judges use funds appropriated for chambers staff to hire law clerks and secretaries.