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The Constitution of the United States (Art. III) provides that there must always be one Supreme Court of the United States. The establishment of such inferior courts as may be deemed proper from time to time is left to Congress.

The judicial power of the United States is limited to cases of certain kinds or between certain kinds of parties. Either (1) the subject-matter of the action must be of a kind that concerns the whole nation, or (2) some party to it must be or claim under a political sovereign, or (3) it must be between a citizen of a State of the Union and one of another of the States or of a foreign country.

In a few of the second class the Supreme Court is given original jurisdiction: in all others of both classes it has appellate jurisdiction, with such exceptions as Congress may think fit to make, save only that no fact tried by a jury can be thus re-examined, except so far as the rules of the common law would have permitted. Its original jurisdiction is confined to cases affecting ambassadors, ministers, and consuls and those to which a State shall be a party. It is not necessarily exclusive as respects any of them,[Footnote: Ames _v._ Kansas, 111 U. S. Reports, 449, 469.] and by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution is so limited as not to include suits against a State by citizens of any other State or foreign government. In point of fact, few original suits have ever been brought before the court, and almost all of these have been instituted by or against States.

The Supreme Court is held at Washington. There is a Chief Justice with eight associate justices, and each is also assigned for circuit duty as a judge of the Circuit Court of the United States in one of nine judicial circuits into which the country is divided. Originally there were but six judges, and each was required to hold two circuits a year in each district in his circuit. They were assigned to the circuits in pairs, and both sat together with the District Judge. The consequence was that three-fourths of their time was spent in traveling from one court town to another. They complained of this to Congress through the President in 1792, and the next year it was provided that Circuit Courts might be held by one justice, alone or with the District Judge. In 1801, an ultimate reduction of the number to five was provided for. They were to devote their time entirely to the Supreme Court, while the Circuit Courts were to be held by a new set of eighteen Circuit Judges. In 1802, they had only ten cases pending before them, and the average for some years had not exceeded that number. For this and other reasons mentioned elsewhere the Act of 1801 was repealed by the next Congress. In 1807, another Justice of the Supreme Court was added and two more in 1837.

Each circuit has a judicial establishment of its own, and is composed of a certain number of judicial districts. Of these there are in the whole United States about eighty. The smaller States constitute one district. In the larger ones there are several.

Each district generally has its own judge, called the District Judge, and always its own court, called the District Court of that district. Each circuit has several Circuit Judges, whose main work is to sit in a court held in each circuit, styled the Circuit Court of Appeals. They can also hold a District Court.

Until 1911, the District Courts had a narrow jurisdiction, and there were Circuit Courts having a wider one. In 1911, the Circuit Court was abolished, and the District Court now is the general trial court of the United States in the first instance. Anyone can sue there to enforce a right arising under the laws of the United States when the amount in dispute is more than $3,000. Rights arising under certain of these laws can only be enforced there, and as to them the pecuniary limitation does not apply. Such are patent-rights and copyrights. Any suit involving an amount exceeding $3,000 may be brought there when the controversy is between citizens of different States or citizens of a State and citizens of a foreign country. So may a suit by citizens of the same State claiming land under grants from different States, without respect to the value of the subject of controversy. Suits of any of these kinds which are brought in a State court may, at the option of the defendant, be transferred for trial into the District Court. On filing proper papers the case is transferred automatically. The District Court has jurisdiction also over bankruptcy and admiralty matters, a few other kinds of civil cases of minor importance, and of all offenses against the United States.[Footnote: The Judicial Code of the United States, Chapter II.]

The pecuniary limit of jurisdiction was for a hundred years fixed at $500. The increase to $3,000 was due partly to the fact that the Supreme Court was overburdened by appeals from the trial courts, many of which involved small amounts, and more to a desire to keep judicial power over ordinary controversies between man and man, as far as practicable, in the hands of the State courts.

Early in the nineteenth century a practice began of bringing suits in the Circuit Court of the United States, which purported to be between citizens of different States, but in which the plaintiff had either changed his residence for the purpose of giving the court jurisdiction or was really suing for the benefit of a citizen of the same State with the defendant. This was due to the high opinion entertained of the federal judiciary[Footnote: Niles' Register, XXIX, 14.] and the desire to bring the cause before a federal, rather than a State tribunal. Such a mode of proceeding, while within the letter of the governing statute, was contrary to its spirit, and little better than a fraud. It was also an evident perversion of the intent of the Constitution, and became at last so far-spreading that both Congress and the courts used their best endeavors to put an end to it, and with success.[Footnote: U. S. Statutes at Large, XVIII, 470; Hawes _v._ Oakland, 104 U. S., 450, 459.]

Another cause is also effective in lessening the docket of the District Courts. The ordinary lawyer prefers to sue in a State court, when he has the choice, on account of his greater familiarity with the practice there. Many American lawyers have never brought an action in a federal court. Most cases which could be so brought can also be and are brought in a State court.

Congress has thus far maintained for the federal courts the ancient distinction between procedure in law and in equity explained in the preceding chapter. There are those who claim that the reference in Art. III, Sec. 2, of the Constitution of the United States to "cases in law and equity" requires its preservation; but this seems a strained construction of the phrase. Separate dockets are kept in the District Court of legal and of equitable actions. They are brought in different form, tried in a different way, and disposed of by different rules, though by the same judges and at the same term of court. As to equity cases, the rules of the old English chancery practice are substantially followed. In cases of a common law nature, the practice existing at the time in regard to those of a similar kind in the courts of the State within which the federal court may be held is to be followed, as nearly as may be.[Footnote: U. S. Revised Statutes, § 914.] In fact, there is a departure from it in many points in most States,[Footnote: See Nudd _v._ Burrows, 91 U. S. Reports, 426.] and in vital ones in those which have reformed their procedure in civil actions by fusing remedies at law with those in equity. If an action framed in this method be removed from a State court to a federal court, the plaintiff must thereupon split it in two, and present his case at law on one set of papers and his case in equity on another.

The Supreme Court, under power derived from acts of Congress, has framed rules of procedure for the inferior trial courts of the United States in equity and admiralty cases, and the latter courts have supplemented them by further rules of their own making. The Equity Rules promulgated by the Supreme Court were revised in 1912, and took effect as changed in 1913.[Footnote: They are printed in Volume 226 of the United States Reports.] They greatly simplify the former procedure. Suits are now tried generally on oral testimony taken stenographically in open court. Formerly the evidence was usually given before officials known as examiners or masters in chancery. The former reported the testimony at length to the trial court. The latter reported their conclusions from it.

The new rules have abolished demurrers in equity causes in favor of what is substantially the present English practice.[Footnote: See _infra,_ page 203.]

In common law causes in the District Court, the State remedies by way of attaching the property of a defendant to respond to a judgment, or seizing it on execution, or imposing a lien upon it by a judgment, are adopted and enforced.[Footnote: U. S. Rev. Stat., §§ 915, 916, 967, 988.]

The field of national legislation being narrow, the offenses against the nation are correspondingly few. Any acts done on lands ceded by a State, which would have been crimes under its law in 1873, may be punished as such in the federal courts in the same manner which that law provided.[Footnote: _Ibid_., § 5391.]

In the Circuit Courts, before 1866 it was customary to defer the trial of important causes until the Justice of the Supreme Court assigned to the circuit could be present. If he differed on any material point from the District Judge, this point could be certified up to the full Supreme Court for argument and decision there. During this period the published reports of the decisions of the Circuit Court contain many opinions of the highest value. Several of the best which Story and Bushrod Washington wrote are to be found among them.

The Act of 1866, by which a resident Circuit Judge was appointed for each circuit, provided notwithstanding that each member of the Supreme Court should attend at least one term of the Circuit Court in each district as often as once in two years. The press of business at Washington, however, soon became such as to make it practically impossible for the Supreme Court Justices to do any substantial circuit work. When some case of national importance was to be heard in any district, the Justice in whose circuit it was included would make a special effort to go down. In this way Chief Justice Chase heard and sustained the plea with which Jefferson Davis met the indictment against him for treason. But ordinarily the Circuit Judge took the place of the Supreme Court Justice, and the latter, if he appeared at all during the term, remained hardly for a day.

The Supreme Court, therefore, during over a hundred years remained the only court of the United States existing mainly for appellate purposes. The work which it had before it at the last term during which it occupied this position (October Term, 1890) will show how much it was then overburdened.

Its docket contained 1,177 appeals brought forward by continuance because they could not be disposed of at the preceding term, 623 new cases of the same kind, and 16 cases of original jurisdiction, making a total of 1,816 actions. Of these, although the term lasted nearly eight months, it was only able to dispose of 617, thus leaving 1,199 for continuance to the following term.[Footnote: 140 U. S. Reports, Appendix.] It will be observed that the court was no longer able to cope with its new business, not to mention that left over from previous years.

Appeals now lie in most civil cases from the final judgments of the District and Circuit Courts, and from convictions for infamous crimes, not capital, to the Circuit Court of Appeals. They also extend to judgments granting a temporary injunction. There is a court of this name for each of the nine circuits, which was established in 1891 for the further relief of the Supreme Court and the speedier termination of litigation. This measure originated in the American Bar Association, by which it was pressed upon the attention of Congress. It had become an absolute necessity to devise some plan of expediting the disposition of appeals from the trial courts of the United States. There was more than enough of such business by the close of the Civil War (the events attending which brought up for decision many novel questions of the highest importance) to require the entire attention of the Supreme Court. It soon took three years after an appeal was docketed before it could be reached for argument. This was intolerable, and it was obviously necessary either to restrict the liberty of appeal; to constitute divisions of the court, one to hear appeals of a certain class and another those of another class; or to set up an intermediate court. The last method was preferred. The practice in the Circuit Court of Appeals is governed by rules of its own making, but in general conforms to that of the Supreme Court of the United States in appealed cases.

The commission appointed some years since to prepare a revision of the laws of the United States have reported in favor of abolishing all jurisdiction of the Circuit Court over original cases and turning it into an appellate court.[Footnote: Senate Doc. 68, 57th Congress, 1st Session.] Should this recommendation be adopted, the District Court would acquire the jurisdiction now vested in the Circuit Court, the District Judges would sit in the District Court only, and the Circuit Court Judges in the Circuit Court only, while the Circuit Court of Appeals would come to an end.

The American Bar Association voted in 1903 that it was desirable to establish a new appellate court to sit at Washington and take cognizance of patent and copyright cases. Such a measure would tend to relieve the Supreme Court of the United States of any undue pressure of business, and promote both uniformity and promptitude of decision in a class of actions in which promptitude and uniformity are of special importance. As things stand now, a patent may be pronounced invalid in one circuit and upheld in another by courts of equal authority; and while in such event the Supreme Court would probably, on a special application, call both these judgments up before it for review, this remedy cannot be claimed as a matter of absolute right, and is at best a slow one.

The Circuit Court of Appeals is held by three judges, two constituting a quorum. Those generally sitting are the Circuit Judges belonging to the circuit. The Justice of the Supreme Court assigned to the circuit may also sit, and any of the District Judges in the circuit can be called in.

Except in a very limited class of cases, the decision of this court is final, unless the Supreme Court, on special application, should think the questions involved to be of sufficient importance to require a review, when it can order the record sent up to Washington for that purpose. The Circuit Court of Appeals can also of its own motion certify up any questions in a cause to the Supreme Court for its instructions before making a final disposition of it.

The Supreme Court has direct appellate jurisdiction over the District and Circuit Courts in cases turning on the limits of their jurisdiction, in prize causes, in equity suits by the United States under the statutes regulating inter-State commerce, and in all cases involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States, or of a treaty. Appeals also lie to it from judgments of conviction in the Circuit Court for capital offenses.[Footnote: 29 U. S. Statutes at Large, 492; 32 _ib_. 823.]

The consequence of the Circuit Courts, which had been impaired by the practical withdrawal of the justices of the Supreme Court, was further lessened by the creation of the Circuit Court of Appeals. Before that their judgments in most cases were final. In criminal causes there was no appeal, and in ordinary civil causes none after 1875, unless the matter in controversy exceeded $5,000 in value. This left the life, liberty and property of the citizen top much in the hands of one man; and the people, led by the bar, insisted on stripping him of powers so liable to abuse.[Footnote: See an attack on a similar state of things existing in Louisiana at one time in the District Court, by Edward Livingston in 1826. Hunt, "Life of Edward Livingston," 302, 303.] No sovereign can be sued in his own courts without his consent. The United States consent to be sued on most claims against them of a contractual nature, which they may dispute. For this purpose a Court of Claims has been established at Washington, consisting of a Chief Justice and four associates. Originally it was little more than an administrative bureau; but by successive amendments of the law it has come to have fully a judicial character,[Footnote: United States _v._ Klein, 13 Wallace's Reports, 128, 144; 24 U. S. Statutes at Large, 505.] except in one particular. It is a general principle that a court will make no decree that it cannot enforce. The Court of Claims cannot issue an execution to enforce its judgments. Money can be drawn from the treasury of the United States only to meet appropriations made by Congress. An appropriation is made by each Congress of a gross sum to satisfy any judgments that have been or may be rendered by the Court of Claims; but should this provision be omitted in any appropriation bill the judgments of the Court of Claims could not be collected.

Concurrent jurisdiction in these respects is given to the District Court of claims not exceeding $1,000 in amount, and to the Circuit Court of those exceeding $1,000 and not exceeding $10,000.

Aliens can sue in the Court of Claims when their own country accords a similar privilege in its courts to citizens of the United States.[Footnote: U. S. Revised Statutes, § 1068.]

This court has also a peculiar kind of advisory jurisdiction. Congress, or any committee of either house, can refer to it any questions of fact which may have come before them. The judges must then ascertain the facts and report them back. The head of any of the great executive departments may, in like manner, in dealing with any claim against the government, if the claimant consents, refer any uncontroverted questions, either of fact or law, to the court, which must then report back to him its findings and opinion. This does not take the form of a judgment, for there is no case and no parties are before it. It is a mere expression of opinion, and stands on much the footing of the report of a committee of inquiry to a superior authority.[Footnote: 22 U. S. Statutes at Large, 485; 24 _id._, 507.]

A temporary court is also in existence called the Court of Private Land Claims. This is composed of a Chief Justice and four associate justices, and has jurisdiction to hear and determine claims of title to land as against the United States, founded on Spanish or Mexican grants in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado or Wyoming. An appeal from the final judgment is given to the Supreme Court of the United States.[Footnote: 26 U. S. Statutes at Large, 854.]

The District of Columbia has a special judicial establishment. There is a court of general jurisdiction known as the Supreme Court of the District of, Columbia, and appeals from its judgments lie to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. This is composed of a Chief Justice and two associate justices, and its judgments are reviewable by the Supreme Court of the United States, if $5,000 is involved, or the validity of an authority exercised under the United States or a treaty or Act of Congress is in question. An appeal also lies to it from decisions of the Commissioner of Patents as to claims of a right to a patent.[Footnote: 27 U. S. Statutes at Large, 434.]

When new territory comes by conquest or cession permanently under the jurisdiction of the United States, it belongs to the President, in the exercise of his executive power, to see to its proper government until Congress makes other provision. He can institute courts there for that purpose, or if he finds courts created by the former sovereign in existence, can expressly or impliedly permit them to continue in the exercise of judicial functions.

Each fully organized Territory has a set of local courts and one Supreme Court to which appeals can be taken and the judgments of which, in cases of large pecuniary magnitude or great legal importance, can be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States. These territorial courts do not exercise what is known in the strict sense and designated in the Constitution as "the judicial power of the United States." They are created to meet temporary conditions, and with judges whose commissions run only for a few years. Such courts are instruments through which Congress exercises its power of regulating the territory of the United States. They act judicially. They have judicial power. But the source of this power is not the clause in the Constitution under which the judicial power of the United States is defined.[Footnote: American Insurance Co. _v._ Canter, 1 Peters' Reports, 511.] It is therefore not necessary to confine such courts strictly to the consideration of judicial business. In the organization of our earliest Territories the judges were given legislative functions, and while this was originally due to the terms of the (Land) Ordinance of 1787, it was confirmed by various Acts of Congress after the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.

The Philippines are governed under an Act of Congress by a commission acting under the supervision of the Secretary of War.

The organization of courts established by Spain has been in substance preserved. The Spanish law which was in force there was expressed in codes mainly founded on those framed for France under Napoleon I. In 1901, the Spanish code of civil procedure was supplanted by one prepared by a member of the Philippine Commission, and which is now familiarly known by his name as the Ide Code. In substance, it establishes the mode of proceeding in civil cases which is known in the United States as code pleading. Trial by jury has not been introduced into the Philippines either in civil or criminal causes, and need not be.[Footnote: Dorr _v._ United States, 195 U. S. Reports, 138.]

In criminal causes, the Spanish system was originally retained, allowing either party, the United States or the defendant, to appeal from the judgment of the court of first instance to the Supreme Court of the islands and have there a new hearing both as to fact and law. This, however, so far as concerns an appeal by the government, was held to be contrary to the Act of Congress under which it was constituted.[Footnote: Kepner _v._ United States, 195 U. S. Reports, 100.]

The courts of the United States are generally provided with an officer styled a marshal. He executes their process, attends their sessions, and exercises in general the functions which belong to a sheriff as respects State courts.

Each District Court appoints a convenient number of District Court Commissioners, who issue warrants of arrest on criminal proceedings, take bail, inquire whether there is probable cause to hold the accused to answer to the charge in court, and discharge in such respects substantially the functions generally belonging to justices of the peace in the States.