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Who was William Evarts?

William Maxwell Evarts was one of the nation's leading lawyers. He also served in the U.S. Senate and sponsored the Judiciary Act of 1891. Evarts served as counsel for President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment proceedings. He also served as U.S. attorney for President Abraham Lincoln and as secretary of state for President Rutherford B. Hayes.

How does the federal court system created by the Founding Fathers compare and contrast with the current federal court system?

The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the same three-tiered court system of federal district courts, federal circuits, and U.S. Supreme Court that exists today. The Evarts Act modernized the system by actually placing new judges on the circuit court appellate level, as opposed to staffing the circuit courts with district judges and U.S. Supreme Court justices. Now, there are 94 federal district courts, 13 federal circuit courts of appeals, and one U.S. Supreme Court composed of nine justices. One major difference in the current system from the 1789 system is that now there are separate judges on the federal circuit courts of appeals. Another major difference is that the circuit courts of appeals are appellate courts; they no longer function as trial courts.

How do circuit courts of appeal hear cases?

Most cases come to the federal circuits after first having been heard before a federal district court. Most cases are heard by a circuit court panel of three judges. The panel normally consists of three judges from the actual circuit, but sometimes the panels consist of two judges from the circuit and a federal district court judge sitting by designation.

How many judges serve on the circuit courts?

It varies depending on the respective circuit court. For example, there are current 24 judges on the Sixth Circuit—eight senior judges and 16 judges. The Ninth Circuit— the largest circuit court in the country—has 48 judges; 21 of those judges are senior judges.

Has there been recent movement in Congress to change the circuit court structure?

Yes, there have been several bills introduced in Congress over the last several years to create an additional circuit court of appeals because the 9th Circuit is so large. In 2009, Rep. Mike Simpson introduced the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judgeship and Reorganization Act of 2009. This proposed measure would create an additional federal appeals court—the 12th Circuit—that would consist of the states of Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Who are some of the nation's leading federal appeals court judges?

Without a doubt one of the country's most respected federal appeals court judges is Richard Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Widely recognized as a genius, Posner has authored numerous books and articles on a wide variety of legal subjects. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Posner clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1962 and later ascended to the 7th Circuit in 1981. He also teaches as a "Senior Lecturer in Law" at the University of Chicago Law School. Bruce Selya is the senior judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Known for his distinctive writing style and impressive vocabulary, Selya has been on the 1st Circuit since President Ronald Reagan appointed him in 1986. Like Posner, Selya earned his law degree from Harvard.

Frank Easterbrook, the current chief judge of the 7th Circuit, is another highly respected federal appeals court jurist. Easterbrook used to work in the Solicitor General's Office in the 1970s where he argued more than 20 cases before the United States Supreme Court. President Reagan nominated him to the 7th Circuit in 1984. Like Posner, Easterbrook teaches at the University of Chicago Law School.

Another star at the federal appellate level is 1st Circuit Judge Sandra L. Lynch of the First Circuit, who made history as the first female judge on the 1st Circuit in 1995. Lynch's opinions have been cited by many other courts.

 
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