Three-Judge District Court

Three-Judge District Court in the United States

A special U.S. district court created to try certain kinds of cases. The Three-Judge District Court (Judicial Organization) was authorized in 1903 and was designed to hear Sherman Anti-trust and Interstate Commerce Act cases filed by the U.S. attorney general. Soon after, the jurisdiction of this court was expanded to include citizen challenges of the constitutionality of federal law. In such suits, three-judge courts were empowered to issue injunctions against enforcement of the questioned statute. A Three-Judge District Court (Judicial Organization) is established on a per case basis and is dissolved when a particular case is concluded. A three-judge court is typically composed of two district judges and one of the circuit’s court of appeals judges. Appeals of decisions of the three-judge courts go directly to the Supreme Court.

See Also

Specialized Court (Judicial Organization) United States District Court (Judicial Organization) (Judicial Organization).

Analysis and Relevance

The Three-Judge District Court (U.S.) was intended to take certain cases having unusual policy importance out of the hands of single judges. The direct appeal to the Supreme Court also had the effect of expediting important cases through the judicial process. Prior to 1960, the process worked reasonably well, although it was rarely used. The volume of civil rights litigation began to dramatically increase the number of three-judge courts convened in the 1960s. The demand for such courts increased because such congressional initiatives as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 specified use of such courts. The direct appeal feature eventually created severe caseload problems for the Supreme Court, and in 1976 Congress passed legislation limiting the use of three-judge courts to certain kinds of civil rights litigation and legislative apportionment cases.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Three-Judge District Court from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

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Federal Primary Materials

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