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J, Judiciary Act of 1869.

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 08 August 2020

(p. 548) Judiciary Act of 1869.

This statute fundamentally reformed the federal judicial system. Since the 1790s, the justices had regularly called for an end to *circuit riding and the establishment of a separate circuit court judiciary. Congress in 1801 had complied, but that measure was repealed a year later (see judiciary acts of 1801 and 1802). By the 1860s such reform was urgent, in part because the Supreme Court’s business had grown significantly because of the *Civil War and in part because the justices assigned to the more remote circuits could not fulfill their duties.

Like the *Judiciary Act of 1866, that of 1869 is often misinterpreted as a Republican assault on the Court. The evidence suggests, instead, that concerns about efficiency as much as politics spurred its passage. The 1869 act permanently fixed the size of the Court at nine, an increase of two over the number established in the 1866 act. Congress provided for a separate circuit court judiciary of nine members, having the same power and jurisdiction that Supreme Court justices had exercised while holding circuit court. A circuit court might be held by either of these judges or by a district judge, sitting together or alone. The 1869 statute still required the justices to attend circuit court in each of the districts, but they had to do so only once in every two years. Finally, the measure ameliorated the chronic problem of decrepit jurists by providing that after ten years of service and reaching the age of seventy, they could retire at full pay.

Kermit L. Hall