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Landmark Legislation: Seventh Circuit

Text of Document

2 Stat. 420
February 24, 1807

For the first time since the establishment of the federal judiciary in 1789, the Congress in 1807 increased the number of justices on the Supreme Court. The act authorizing the appointment of a seventh justice came in response to the geographic expansion of the nation and the increased caseload of the district courts in the west. The act established a Seventh Circuit, consisting of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and specified that the new justice be assigned to preside over the U.S. circuit courts within that circuit. In an effort to insure attendance at the circuit courts, which met twice a year in each district, Congress required that the new justice reside within the circuit as well. The act was the first in a series increasing the size of the Supreme Court to accommodate new circuits formed from recently admitted states, although no such residency requirement was ever applied to another Supreme Court seat.

When it organized judicial districts in Kentucky in 1789, in Tennessee in 1797, and in Ohio in 1803, Congress determined that Supreme Court justices would be unable to attend regular circuit court sessions in these areas west of the Appalachian Mountains. The organizing statutes for these districts authorized the U.S. district courts to exercise the trial jurisdiction of U.S. circuit courts while the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction over appeals from the district court. As the volume of federal cases in the western districts increased and land claims prompted complicated diversity suits, various groups appealed to Congress to incorporate these western states in the same judicial structure found along the eastern seaboard.

The act provided that as of May 1, 1807, all proceedings properly the jurisdiction of a circuit court would be transferred from the district courts in the three states to the respective circuit court.