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A 'Progressive Contraction of Jurisdiction': The Making of the Modern Supreme Court

Then & Now: Stories of Law and Progress (2013), Forthcoming

Chicago-Kent College of Law Research Paper No. 2013-12

8 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2013 Last revised: 15 Mar 2013

Carolyn Shapiro

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law

Date Written: February 28, 2013

Abstract

The Supreme Court in 1888 was in crisis. Its overall structure and responsibilities, created a century earlier by the Judiciary Act of 1789, were no longer adequate or appropriate. The Court had no control over its own docket - at the beginning of the 1888 term, there were 1,563 cases pending - and the justices’ responsibilities, which included circuit riding, were impossible to meet. Shaped as it was by a law almost as old as the country itself, the Supreme Court in 1888 - and the federal judicial system as a whole - would be barely recognizable to many today.

This chapter - which appears in IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s compilation Then & Now: Stories of Law and Progress - examines the subsequent ways in which Congress (often at the urging of the justices) and the Supreme Court itself sought to lessen its workload and define the limits of its jurisdiction. Through such factors as the creation of intermediate appellate courts, the passage of the Evarts Act in 1891 and the Judges’ Bill in 1925, and the Court’s own early refusal to engage in error correction, the Supreme Court’s jurisdictional scope narrowed, and the Court evolved into the institution we know today. This “progressive contraction of jurisdiction” has led to historically low dockets. In October Term 2011, the Supreme Court decided a historic low of only 65 cases on the merits.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Supreme Court jurisdiction, progressive contraction, intermediate appellate courts, Evarts Act, Judges' Bill, Then & Now: Stories of Law and Progress, 1888 term, October Term 2011

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Shapiro, Carolyn, A 'Progressive Contraction of Jurisdiction': The Making of the Modern Supreme Court (February 28, 2013). Then & Now: Stories of Law and Progress (2013); Chicago-Kent College of Law Research Paper No. 2013-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2226630

Carolyn Shapiro (Contact Author)

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )

565 West Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661
United States

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