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Landmark Legislation: Federal Circuit

Text of Document

96 Stat. 25
April 2, 1982

In an effort to promote greater uniformity in certain areas of federal jurisdiction and relieve the pressure on the dockets of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeals for the regional circuits, the Congress in 1982 established what is now the only U.S. court of appeals defined exclusively by its jurisdiction rather than geographical boundaries. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit assumed the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Claims. The new court was authorized to hear appeals from several federal administrative boards as well. Congress abolished the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the U.S. Court of Claims, reassigning those courts' 12 judges to serve on the Federal Circuit court. The act of 1982 also established a U.S. Claims Court (now the U.S. Court of Federal Claims).

The establishment of the Federal Circuit followed more than ten years of study and debate over reform of the appellate structure of the federal judiciary. A committee appointed by Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1971 recommended a National Court of Appeals that would decide cases and screen petitions for appeal to the Supreme Court. The 1975 report of the Commission on Revision of the Federal Court Appellate System proposed a like-named court that would determine national law and resolve inter-circuit conflicts by deciding certain categories of cases referred to it by the Supreme Court and the courts of appeals. Although Congress rejected both proposals for a national court of appeals, the studies drew attention to the problems associated with the lack of uniform rulings in specialized areas of jurisdiction. A proposal drafted by the Department of Justice led to President Carter's request in 1979 that Congress establish a court of appeals for a Federal Circuit, to be on the same jurisdictional level as the other U.S. courts of appeals. The proposed court would combine the functions of the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals with those of the U.S. Court of Claims, and the president also urged Congress to consider vesting the proposed court with the jurisdiction to promote uniformity and predictability in federal tax cases.

Although the House and Senate failed to complete consideration of the bill before the end of Carter's term, an endorsement by the Judicial Conference and support from business leaders resulted in the reintroduction of the legislation in 1981. In the approved act, Congress extended the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit to the review of appeals from the U.S. Court of International Trade, the Merit Services Protection Board, the board of contract appeals, and certain administrative decisions of the secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, as well as all appeals related to patents. Congress rejected the controversial proposals to grant the Federal Circuit court jurisdiction over appeals of tax and environmental cases.