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In 1891, Congress passed the Evarts Act, or the Circuit Courts of Appeals Act. The driving motive for this reform was the Supreme Court’s increasingly unmanageable docket—a caseload of 1,816 by 1890. The Court couldn’t dispose of all of them in a single Term, of course. Even in 1875, the American Law Review had warned that “the arrears, which have been growing for a long time, are now so great that two years at least will be required to hear the cases already on its list.” By 1890, the delay had risen to nearly four years. (Ironically, the Court had mostly done this to itself, having decided decades before that “a suit by or against a corporation, in its corporate name, must be presumed to be a suit by or against citizens of the State which created the corporate body.” This enabled corporations to satisfy one of Article III’s requirements for bringing cases into federal court, which they did frequently.)

Included among the Evarts Act papers in the National Archives are resolutions supporting proposals for a new tier of intermediate appellate courts. The Georgia Bar Association identified a “double purpose of relieving the Supreme Court and providing for the review of decisions of the Circuit or District judges sitting alone in cases not reviewable under existing laws”:

The American Bar Association amassed a heap of statistical evidence to demonstrate “the importance of passing some act for the relief of the Supreme Court from the excessive amount of business which now crowds its docket”:

Justice Edward Seeds of the Supreme Court of New Mexico also advocated docket diminution:

I’ll eventually post pictures of the proposed circuit lists drafted during the process of assigning states to circuits, but I thought I would start with these (if only to preserve the purity of my post categories).