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Circuit (judicial district): Wikis


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In law, a circuit is an appellate judicial district used in the court systems of several nations.


For most of Western history, the majority of people were illiterate; competent lawyers and judges were often in short supply. As England emerged from the Dark Ages, King Henry II instituted custom of having judges ride around the countryside ("ride circuit") each year to hear appeals (rather than forcing everyone to bring their appeals to London). (See Assize of Clarendon). Thus, the term "circuit court" is derived from the practice of having judges ride around the countryside each year on pre-set paths to hear cases.

United States

In the United States, circuit courts were first established in the British Thirteen Colonies. Under the original Judiciary Act of 1789 and subsequent acts, the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. had the responsibility of "riding circuit" and personally hearing intermediate appeals, in addition to their caseload back in the capital. This onerous duty was abolished by Congress with the Judiciary Act of 1891.

Today, there are federal court of appeals, circuit courts that sit permanently in 13 appellate circuits (11 regional circuits as well as a DC Circuit and the Federal Circuit). Note that there are several other federal courts that bear the phrase "Court of Appeals" in their names, but they are not Article III courts and are not considered to sit in appellate circuits.

The federal court of appeals are intermediate courts, between the district courts (the federal trial courts) and the Supreme Court. Smaller circuits, such as the Second Circuit and Third Circuit, are based at a single federal courthouse, while others, such as the large Ninth Circuit, are spread across many courthouses. Since three-judge federal appellate panels are randomly selected from all sitting circuit judges, Ninth Circuit judges must often "ride the circuit," though this duty has become much easier to carry out since the development of modern air travel.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices still retain vestiges of the days of riding circuit; each justice is designated to hear certain interlocutory appeals from specific circuits and can unilaterally decide them or refer them to the entire Court. The Court's customary summer recess originated as the time during which the justices would leave Washington and ride circuit (since dirt roads were more passable in the summer).

Several U.S. states have state supreme courts that traditionally "ride the circuit" in the sense of hearing oral arguments at multiple locations throughout their jurisdictions each year. Among the states with circuit-riding supreme courts are California, Idaho, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

See also



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