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Court of Claims, 1855-1982

In an act of February 24, 1855 (10 Stat. 612), Congress established a Court of Claims, with jurisdiction to hear and determine all monetary claims based upon a congressional statute, an executive branch regulation, or a contract with the United States government. Since 1789, such claims against the government were submitted through petitions to Congress. In the act of 1855, Congress established the Court of Claims to relieve its own workload, but retained its traditional control over the expenditure of all public monies by requiring the new court to report on its determination of claims and prepare bills for payments to successful claimants. Like the judges of the federal courts of general jurisdiction, the three judges of the Court of Claims were nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and served with tenure during good behavior. The act also created the position of a solicitor to represent the United States government in cases before the Court of Claims.

On several occasions, Congress expanded the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims, most notably in the Tucker Act of 1887 (24 Stat. 505), which, by further restricting claims submitted to Congress, made the court the principal forum for all claims against the federal government. The act of 1855 permitted the judges of the Court of Claims to appoint commissioners to take depositions and issue subpoenas. The court's reliance on commissioners increased, and in 1925 Congress authorized the court to appoint seven commissioners, who would hear evidence and report on their findings of the facts. The Court of Claims served as a court of appeals for parties who challenged the findings of the commissioners.

The status of the court and its relationship to the judiciary were subject to debate for nearly 100 years. Although Congress in 1863 granted the Court of Claims the authority to issue its own decisions rather than report to the legislature, the revised statute required the Secretary of the Treasury to prepare an estimate of the appropriation before any money was distributed. In 1865, the Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from the Court of Claims because its decisions were subject to review by an executive department. Within a year, Congress repealed the provision for review by the Secretary of the Treasury. In response, the Supreme Court promulgated rules for appeals from the Court of Claims. 

The question of the court's status arose again when a judge of the court sued for the recovery of salary that Congress had reduced in the Economy Act of 1932. The Supreme Court in 1933 ruled that the Court of Claims was created as a legislative court under Article I of the Constitution and that its judges therefore were not subject to the protection in Article III against diminution of judicial salaries. Twenty years later, in an act of 1953, Congress declared the Court of Claims "to be a court established under Article III of the Constitution of the United States." (67 Stat. 226.). The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed this status in a 1962 opinion. In 1956 Congress provided that the chief judge of the Court of Claims would serve as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

In 1948, Congress changed the name of the court to the U.S. Court of Claims, and it abolished the court in 1982. The court's judges and much of its jurisdiction were transferred to the new U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In the same statute, Congress created a new "U.S. Claims Court," now the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, with jurisdiction over claims seeking money judgments from the United States.