Judicial Circuits Act

Judicial Circuits Act

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The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 (ch. 210) reorganized the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 circuit courts
United States circuit court
The United States circuit courts were the original intermediate level courts of the United States federal court system. They were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They had trial court jurisdiction over civil suits of diversity jurisdiction and major federal crimes. They also had appellate...

 and provided for the gradual elimination of several seats on the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

. It was signed into law on July 23, 1866 by President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 and ultimately had the effect of preventing him from appointing any justices to the Supreme Court.


In the first major legislation dealing with the judiciary after the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, Congress redrew the boundaries of the judicial circuits and reduced the number of circuits from ten to nine. It also provided for the gradual elimination of seats on the Supreme Court until there would be seven justices rather than the ten authorized in 1863. Although Congress would increase the size of the Supreme Court within three years (see Circuit Judges Act of 1869), the geographical outline of the circuits has since remained largely the same except for the addition of new states to existing circuits and the division of two large circuits in the twentieth century.

The subsequent stability in circuit organization ended a period of frequent rearrangement of the states within the circuits. After establishing nine circuits in 1837, Congress in 1842 shifted several southern states in order to accommodate transportation routes used by the justices on circuit. In 1862 Congress incorporated five additional states into a restructured system of nine circuits, and within another year had abolished the California Circuit, placed California and Oregon in a Tenth Circuit, and reorganized the midwestern states to make travel easier.

The geographical reorganization of the circuits in 1866 coincided with the broader effort of the Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 majority in Congress to reduce what it saw as the disproportionate influence of southern states in the federal government before the Civil War. Between 1837 and 1862, five of the nine circuits consisted exclusively of slave states. The tradition of appointing a justice from each circuit allowed Southern slaveowners to dominate the Supreme Court. After taking an initial step to reduce the number of southern circuits in 1862, Congress in 1866 left only two circuits composed entirely of former slave states, and only one was composed solely of former Confederate states
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...


The reduction in the size of the Supreme Court nullified the pending nomination of Henry Stanberry to the tenth seat on the Court and prevented President Andrew Johnson from appointing a justice during the remainder of his term. The legislation owed less to the Republican opposition to Johnson, who signed the act, than to the efforts of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase was an American politician and jurist who served as U.S. Senator from Ohio and the 23rd Governor of Ohio; as U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln; and as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.Chase was one of the most prominent members...

. The first draft of the bill proposed a return to nine justices, thus preventing tie votes on the Court and providing a justice for each circuit. In private communication with influential members of Congress and fellow justices, Chase urged a further reduction in the number of seats in hopes of winning approval for an increase in the justices' salaries. Congress did not approve an increase in judicial salaries until 1871, after it had returned the Court to nine seats.