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U.S. Customs Court, 1926-1980

Originally Board of General Appraisers, 1890-1926 

In order to relieve the caseload of the U.S. district and circuit courts and to regularize the procedure for settling customs disputes, Congress in 1890 established a Board of General Appraisers to decide controversies related to appraisals of imported goods and classifications of tariffs. The appraisers were nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and could be removed by the president with cause. The Board operated under the direction of the secretary of the Treasury Department and heard appeals of decisions by customs officers. Although the secretary could order the appraisers to sit in any port in the country, the board and the courts that succeeded it have had their headquarters in New York City. Appeals from the board's decisions were reviewable by the U.S. circuit courts and, after their establishment in 1891, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals as well. The volume of appeals was so high that Congress in 1909 established a Court of Customs Appeals to hear all challenges to the decisions of the Board of General Appraisers.

In a series of acts over a period of nearly fifty years, Congress increased the judicial, as opposed to the administrative, character of the Board of General Appraisers. In 1908, the appraisers were granted authority to establish rules of evidence and procedure, they gained the same powers as a U.S. circuit court to compel testimony and punish contempt, and they were relieved of any responsibility for administrative duties assigned by the secretary of the Treasury. An act of 1926 (44 Stat. 669) changed the name of the Board to the U.S. Customs Court and provided that the appraisers would be known as the chief justice and justices of the court. (Four years later the titles were changed to judge.) The Tariff Act of 1930 transferred administrative support for the customs court from the Treasury to the Justice Department. The revised Judicial Code of 1948 incorporated the customs court within the title governing the judiciary. An act of 1956 declared that the court was established under Article III, thereby extending to the judges the same rights to tenure and undiminished salary that were guaranteed to judges of the district and appellate courts.

In 1980, Congress reorganized the U.S. Customs Court as the U.S. Court of International Trade (94 Stat. 1727).