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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

NARA: Federal Court Records - 1

An overview of records located at NARA San Bruno - Part 1

By Martha Wallace

Federal circuit courts were established to serve as trial courts for federal criminal cases, suits between 
citizens of different states, and civil suits initiated by the US. They had appellate jurisdiction over large admiralty cases and appeals from the district courts.

1.   California Federal Courts through the Years  . 

Judge Ogden Hoffman Jr.
San Francisco Call
19 December 1893
a.   California became a state in 1850 and the first federal court opened in May 1851: the United States District Court for the Northern District of California with Judge Ogden Hoffman appointed by Congress. 
Judge Hoffman served from 1851 to 1891. In 1852, the judge of the Southern District died and the Northern District judge also served that post until 1854. 

Merchant Exchange 1856
Bancroft Library
The first courthouse opened in 1855 in the Merchant’s Exchange Building on Battery Street. This court considered cases involving admiralty, land disputes, and public order. In 1866, California became one judicial district and in 1886 it was divided again into Northern and Southern districts.

Matthew Hall McCallister
City Hall, San Francisco
b. In 1850 there were nine circuit courts, originally created for the nine justices of the Supreme Court to “ride circuit.” From 1851 to 1855 there was no circuit court for California. The district courts in California held jurisdiction of both district and circuit courts. At that time, California was too far away from Washington, DC, for an assignment to a Supreme Court justice.

c.   In 1855, the US Circuit Court for the Districts of California was established without a Supreme Court Justice to preside. This court had the same jurisdiction as other federal circuit courts. It met once a year in San Francisco, with special sessions as necessary. Matthew McAllister served as the judge until 1863; his salary was $4500.

d.  In 1863, the California circuit court was abolished and Congress created the Tenth Circuit and appointed a Supreme Court justice to serve that circuit. The first justice to hold that position was Stephen J. Field. Jurisdiction included California and Oregon. In 1865 Nevada was added. The Tenth Circuit was abolished in 1866 and California, Nevada, and Oregon were assigned to the Ninth Circuit, with Lorenzo Sawyer as the first judge. California remained in the Ninth Circuit, with further states added in succeeding years.
Stephen Johnson Field 1875
Library of Congress

Lorenzo Sawyer
History of the Federal Judiciary

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