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Landmark Legislation: Tenth Circuit
12 Stat. 794
March 3, 1863
The number of authorized seats on the Supreme Court reached its peak in 1863 when Congress established a Tenth Circuit consisting of California and Oregon and created a new justiceship to serve that circuit. The disability and subsequent resignation of the judge of the California Circuit gave rise to proposals for incorporating the Pacific coast states within the regular circuit system. Many people in California were eager for the appointment of a justice to serve the state's U.S. circuit courts in order to lend authority to the federal courts and to facilitate appeals to the Supreme Court. The movement gained further support when one of California's leading jurists, Stephen J. Field, informed the state's U.S. senators that he had no interest in the circuit judgeship but would accept a seat on the Supreme Court. In the midst of the Civil War, the Lincoln administration welcomed the opportunity to appoint a strong Unionist to the Supreme Court.
Even before the resignation of Matthew McAllister as California circuit judge, the judiciary committee in the House of Representatives proposed a bill to organize California and Oregon into a tenth circuit and appoint an additional justice to the Supreme Court. After McAllister resigned in January 1863, the Senate considered a similar bill, which won congressional approval. The act abolished the California circuit court as well as the circuit court jurisdiction of the Oregon district court and the California district courts' jurisdiction over appeals from the state's land commission. All pending matters that were the proper business of a circuit court were transferred to the new circuit courts to be held in each of the states' districts and to be presided over by a justice of the Supreme Court and the district judge. The act's final clause provided the justice assigned to the Tenth Circuit "one thousand dollars for his travelling expenses for each year in which he may actually attend a session of the supreme court of the United States," suggesting the importance of the circuit assignment and the fear that the justice might not be able to travel across the country for each session of the Court in Washington.
While Congress considered the legislation in February of 1863, Lincoln nominated Stephen Field to the California circuit judgeship that he had privately said he would decline. Before the Senate considered the nomination, the full Congress approved the act abolishing the circuit. Within a week Lincoln nominated and the Senate confirmed Field as the new justice. The Court appointed Field to serve as the Tenth Circuit justice. The full complement of ten justices sat together only for one week in December 1863, while illness and vacancies kept attendance below ten for the remainder of the period before Congress reduced the size of the court in 1866.
12 Stat. 794
March 3, 1863
CHAP. C. - An Act to provide Circuit Courts for the Districts of
California and Oregon, and for other Purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the supreme court of the United States shall hereafter consist of a chief justice and nine associate justices, any six of whom shall constitute a quorum; and for this purpose there shall be appointed one additional associate justice of said court, with the like powers, and to take the same oaths, perform the same duties, and be entitled to the same salary, as the other associate justices. The districts of California and Oregon shall constitute the tenth circuit, and the other circuits shall remain as now constituted by law.
SEC. 2. And be it further enacted, That so much of any act or acts of Congress as vests in the district courts in and for the said States of California and Oregon, or either of them, the power and jurisdiction of circuit courts, and the act entitled "An act to establish a circuit court of the United States in and for the State of California," approved March second, eighteen hundred and fifth-five, be, and the same are hereby, repealed, and the said circuit court is hereby abolished; and there shall hereafter be circuit courts held for the districts of the States of California and Oregon by the chief justice, or one of the associate justices of the supreme court of the United States assigned or allotted to the circuit to which such districts may respectively belong, and the district judges of such districts, severally and respectively, either of whom shall constitute a quorum, which circuit courts and the judges thereof shall have like powers and exercise like jurisdiction as other circuit courts and the judges thereof; and the district courts in and for the several districts in and for said States of California and Oregon, and the judges thereof, shall have like powers and exercise like jurisdiction as the district courts and the judges thereof in the other circuit courts
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That all actions, suits, prosecutions, causes, pleas, process, and other proceedings, relative to any cause, civil or criminal, (which might have been brought and could have been originally cognizable in a circuit court as established by this act,) now pending in or returnable to the several district courts of the United States in the said States of California and Oregon, or now pending in or returnable to the circuit court of California, by this act abolished, acting as circuit courts (or so empowered to act) shall be, and are hereby declared to be, respectively, transferred, returnable, and continued to the several circuit courts constituted by this act, to be holden within said districts respectively, and shall be heard, tried, and determined therein, in the same manner as if originally brought, entered, prosecuted, or had in such circuit courts; and no bail-bond or recognizance taken in any of said actions, suits, prosecutions, or causes transferred to said circuit courts by this act shall thereby be avoided, impaired, or invalidated; and the said circuit courts shall be governed by the same laws and regulations as apply to the other circuit courts of the United States," and the clerks of said courts, respectively, shall perform the same duties, and shall be entitled to receive the same fees and emoluments which are by law established for the clerks of the other circuit courts of the United States.
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That the circuit court for the districts in California shall be held at the city of San Francisco, and the city of Los Angelos, in said State, at the same times now prescribed by law for holding terms of the district courts of the northern and southern districts of said State at said places; and the circuit court for the State of Oregon shall be held at Portland, in said State, at the same times now fixed by law for holding terms of the district court for the district of Oregon at that place.
SEC. 5. And be it further enacted, That the judge assigned to the tenth circuit, as constituted by this act, shall receive, in addition to his salary hereinbefore provided, the sum of one thousand dollars for his travelling expenses for each year in which he may actually attend a session of the supreme court of the United States.
APPROVED, March 3, 1863.