You are here

Landmark Legislation: Eighth and Ninth Circuits

Text of Document

5 Stat. 176
March 3, 1837

As state after state entered the Union in the years following the establishment of the Seventh Circuit in 1807, Congress made no changes in the organization of the judicial circuits except in 1820 when it placed the newly-admitted state of Maine in the First Circuit. In each of the eight western states admitted between 1812 and 1837, Congress established a district court with the authority to exercise the trial jurisdiction of circuit courts. The federal courts in the western states, each with a single judge, became overburdened with cases, many of them involving complicated issues related to land claims. By the 1820s, Congress faced growing demands that these states receive the same access to the courts of the United States as states that were within a circuit. Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson repeatedly urged the creation of new circuits. In 1829, in his first annual message, Jackson reminded Congress that one-fourth of the nation was without access to a circuit court, the principal trial court of the federal judiciary. In 1836 and 1837, two more states entered the Union without being included within a circuit. On several occasions in the 1820s and '30s, one house of Congress approved a bill for a new circuit and an additional seat on the Supreme Court, but parties opposing the president defeated the legislation in order to deprive the chief executive of an additional Supreme Court appointee. Finally in 1837, Congress approved the establishment of two additional circuits and two new seats on the Supreme Court. Once again, Congress increased the size of the Supreme Court to support the circuit court system rather than in response to the caseload of the high Court itself.

The legislation of 1837 organized the circuits west of the Appalachians to facilitate the travel of the justices through territory where roads and accommodations were often still rudimentary. Congress reorganized the Seventh Circuit to include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio; Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri formed the Eighth Circuit; and the Ninth Circuit consisted of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Although the act had not imposed a residency requirement on the new justices, both appointees, John Catron of Tennessee and John McKinley of Alabama, lived in the circuit to which they were assigned as circuit justice. The act made certain exceptions for the travel requirements of the justices by excluding one district and two meeting places from the circuit system that otherwise incorporated every state. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana as well as the district court for the Northern District of New York when meeting at Utica and that of the Western District of Pennsylvania when meeting in Williamsport continued to exercise the trial jurisdiction of the circuit courts. In the following years, Congress allowed further exceptions as some justices found it difficult to travel twice a year to all of the districts within their assigned circuits.

Further reading:
Curtis Nettels. "The Mississippi Valley and the Federal Judiciary, 1807-1837." Mississippi Valley Historical Review , 12(September 1925): 202-26.