Minnesota Law Review

Why Supreme Court Justices Should Ride Circuit Again

The practice of Supreme Court Justices circuit riding is as old as the federal judiciary itself and has a storied history that spans the first 120 years of this nation’s history. Yet the practice is also one of the least explored aspects of the Judiciary Act of 1789 and has been given little attention in scholarly literature.

In addition to exploring its history, this Article proposes circuit riding renewal by requiring Supreme Court Justices to spend at least one week per year hearing cases on the United States Courts of Appeals. As the Article explains, many of the reasons favoring abolition of the practice, such as the Supreme Court’s crushing caseload during the late nineteenth century and the dangers and delays associated with transcontinental travel, are no longer concerns for today’s Justices. Furthermore, circuit riding would confer a number of important benefits on modern Justices, including exposing them to a wider array of legal issues, the laws of various states, and the difficulties faced by the lower courts in implementing the Supreme Court’s sweeping (and sometimes confounding) rulings. Equally important, having the Justices perform work on the circuit courts is both reasonable and workable, and closely matches the competencies of the Justices to the courts on which they would sit. This Article argues that it is time to renew an important component of the framers’ vision for a vital and independent judiciary: the practice of circuit riding.

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