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Commerce Court, 1910-1913

The short-lived Commerce Court had its origins in the movement to create a specialized court to hear appeals from orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had been established in 1887 to regulate the nation's railroads. The provisions for the new court also included President Taft's proposal for at-large judges who could be assigned for temporary service on circuit courts of appeals with overburdened dockets. An act of June 18, 1910, (36 Stat. 539) established the Commerce Court as a court of record with five judges, appointed to serve staggered terms of up to five years. The Commerce Court had jurisdiction to enforce all orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission and to hear all challenges to the commission's rulings. Taft simultaneously appointed the five new judges to different circuit courts of appeals, as provided for in the statute. The Chief Justice had authority to reassign the Commerce Court judges to other courts of appeal, and when initial judges came to the end of their terms, they would continue to serve on a court of appeals. Sitting appellate judges would be temporarily assigned by the Chief Justice to fill the vacancies on the Commerce Court.

Decisions of the Commerce Court were reviewable by the Supreme Court, which in fact overturned many of its decisions just as the Commerce Court reversed many of the orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission. The court had been established over the objections of many members of Congress. Within a few months of its organization, members of Congress and private critics called for its abolition. Opposition to the court increased when one of its judges, Robert W. Archbald, was impeached by the House of Representatives in July 1912. Within a month Congress voted to abolish the Commerce Court, but Taft vetoed the bill. In October of 1913, Congress with the support of President Wilson, again voted to abolish the court, which came to an end on December 31, 1913. The jurisdiction of the court was assigned to the district courts, and pending cases were transferred to the district court in which the petitioning party resided. Despite the opposition of a majority of the House of Representatives and a large minority of the Senate, the final version of the act allowed the judges appointed to the Commerce Court to continue serving on the federal courts during good behavior. Archbald was removed from office by the Senate in January 1913. The remaining Commerce Court judges continued to serve on appellate courts to which they were assigned by the Chief Justice.