The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Are Circuit Court Decisions from Before 1892 Binding On The Circuit Courts of Appeals?

The Evarts Act of 1892 established the modern-day circuit courts of appeals.


The Judiciary Act of 1891, commonly known as the Evarts Act, restructured the federal judiciary. This law created the now-familiar circuit courts of appeals. At the time, there were nine circuit courts of appeal. Now there are twelve.

Prior to the Evarts Act, there were circuit courts in the states. For example, there was the U.S. Circuit Court for District of Maryland. (This court may seem familiar to those who've read Ex Parte Merryman). And Justice Bushrod Washington decided Corfield v. Coryell while riding circuit on the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

I have a question, for which I cannot find the answer. Would a pre-1892 decision of the U.S. Circuit Court for District of Maryland, which was in the 4th Circuit, have been binding precedent on the U.S. Circuit Court for the Fourth Circuit after 1891?

In a related context, I know that decisions of the "old" Fifth Circuit are binding precedent on the Eleventh Circuit, which broke off from the Fifth Circuit in 1981. But I am not certain about the relationship between the pre-Evarts Act Circuit Courts and post-Evarts Acts Circuit Courts of Appeals.

If you have any insights, please email me. I never check the comments or tweets. (But you all knew that already).