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U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit: A Pathfinder

Updated by

Renee Y. Rastorfer
Head of Research Services

July 2013

 

The appellate level of the federal courts was originally called the Circuit Court and arranged in numbered circuits. The federal judiciary underwent a massive reorganization in 1891. After reorganization the appellate function was assigned to the newly created United States Courts of Appeals and was arranged in numbered circuits. Massachusetts was included in the original First Circuit Court, and remained in the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after the 1891 reorganization. Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico make up the rest of the First Circuit.

The structure of the Courts of Appeals is dictated by the United States Code. The assignment of states and territories to each circuit is codified in 28 U.S.C. 41 (2006), while the number of judges is set out in 28 U.S.C. 44 (2006). There are currently six judges in the First Circuit, a number that was set in 1984. Judges are selected for the First Circuit by the executive branch administration, and confirmed by the Senate.

The United States Court of Appeals hears federal cases appealed from the U.S. District Courts in its region. These cases involve matters of federal or constitutional law. Decisions of the Courts of Appeals may, in turn, be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Courts of Appeals also hear bankruptcy cases and cases from other federal "special" courts.

All published decisions of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit appear in the Federal Reporter, currently in its third series. Since 2001, unpublished decisions of the Court appear in the Federal Appendix. Summaries of each published case are published in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. The records and briefs of cases heard in the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1987 to the present are available on microfiche. Historically, First Circuit Court cases appeared in a series of reporters, and were collectively published by West Publishing in Federal Cases. Online, cases are available from Westlaw, Lexis, Casemaker, and the Court's website. Dockets from 1997 to present are available on Westlaw.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sits in session for 11 weeks throughout the year. It is in session for one week of each month. In March and November, it sits one week in Boston and one week in Puerto Rico. The Court sits for one week in either July or August and vacates the other month. The specific calendar for the upcoming session is available on the official website.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is governed by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, First Circuit Rules, Rules of the Judicial Council of the First Circuit Governing Complaints of Judicial Misconduct or Disability, and the Rules of Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement for the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The Rules and other information on the court's operating procedures are also available on the official website.

Several prominent judges and lawyers have served in the First Circuit. Calvert Magruder served as a judge on the First Circuit in the mid-twentieth century. Previously a professor at Harvard Law School, Magruder was known for his carefully considered and thoroughly researched opinions. Claude B. Cross had an illustrious career before the First Circuit, including his defense of a journalist accused of treason during World War II [Chandler v. United States, 171 F. 2d 921 (1st Cir. 1948)]. Cross was also known for his efforts in reinstating Alger Hiss to the Bar. United States Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter previously served on the First Circuit. They are the only judges from the First Circuit to ever serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. The first female judge in the First Circuit was Sandra Lea Lynch, appointed by the Clinton Administration in 1995.

Prominent cases of the First Circuit include: Morgan v. Kerrigan, 509 F.2d 580 (1st Cir. 1974) - Boston school desegregation; Abbott v. Bragdon, 107 F.3d 934 (1st Cir. 1997) - refusal of dentist to work on an HIV-positive patient; Philip Morris, Inc. et al. v. Reilly, 267 F.3d 45 (1st Cir. 2001) - disclosure of cigarette ingredient list and nicotine levels.

Further Reading: 

[All references to "Reserve" refer to Law Reserve. Ready Reference is behind the Reference Desk on the 1st Floor. If no location is given with a call number, the resource is on the third floor.]

Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, vol. 2, 1st Circuit-1 to 1st Circuit-17. (Aspen Law & Business 1992-). Ready Reference KF8700 .A19 A46 1992-.

Steven M. Barkan, Roy M. Mersky & Donald J. Dunn, Fundamentals of Legal Research ch. 4, 55-68 (9th ed., Foundation Press 2009). Reserve KF240 .M47 2009.

Margaret A. Burnham, Survey of First Circuit Cases, 39 Suffolk U.L.Rev. 889 (2006). 

Committee on Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction First Circuit, Pattern Jury Instructions (Criminal Cases) (Thompson 1998). KF9682 .A65 P16 1998.

Jared D. Correia, Hon. Michael Boudin Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Fed. Law. at 36 (July 2005).

Federal Court of Appeals Manual: Local Rules (West 2000-). Reserve KF9052 .F43.

Federal Civil Litigation in the First Circuit (Robert C. Collings et al., eds., MCLE 2008-). Reserve KF8755 .F47 F42.

First Circuit Rejects Sovereign Immunity Claim by Palestinian Authority, 99 Am. J. Int'l L. 696 (2005).

Richard Fossey & Robert LeBlanc, Vouchers for Sectarian Schools after Zelman: Will the First Circuit Expose Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the Massachusetts Constitution? 193 Ed. Law Rep. 343 (2005).

Jay L. Gottlieb & Arianna Frankl, The Bankvest Case: The Supreme Court Lets Stand First Circuit Decision Favoring Preservation of Estate Assets for all Creditors, Including Institutional Lenders, 122 Banking Law Journal 31 (2005).

Robert J. Keach, Afterlife, Reincarnation or Purgatory? Post-Confirmation Jurisdiction In the First Circuit, Am. Bankr. Inst. J. at 24 (Oct. 2005).

Carlos Perez-Albuerne, The Scope of Federal Protection of Electronic Communications in the First Circuit, Boston Bar J. at 24 (Feb. 2006).

Records and Briefs of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Law Microforms.

U.S. Court of Appeal (1st Circuit), Gender Bias Task Force, Report of the First Circuit Gender, Race, and Ethnic Bias Task Forces (First Circuit Task Forces on Gender, Race and Ethnic Bias 1999). KF8752 1st .U55 1999.

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

History of the Court of Appeals

Philip M. Cronin, Claude B. Cross in Legal Chowder: Lawyering and Judging in Massachusetts 164 (Rudolph Kass ed., MCLE 2002). KFM2478 .L44 2002.

George Dargo, Calvert Magruder of the First Circuit: The Law Professor as Judge, 74 Mass. L. Rev. 239 (1989).

Rudolph Kass, Stephen G. Breyer in Legal Chowder: Lawyering and Judging in Massachusetts 115 (Rudolph Kass ed., MCLE 2002). KFM2478 .L44 2002.

Sandra L. Lynch, Boston School Desegregation Case in Legal Chowder: Lawyering and Judging in Massachusetts 216 (Rudolph Kass ed., MCLE 2002). KFM2478 .L44 2002.

John W. Macy, Jr., The First Decade of the Circuit Court Executive: An Evaluation (Federal Judicial Center 1985). KF8732 .M32 1985, Online.

Calvert Magruder, The Trials and Tribulations of an Appellate Judge, 64 Cornell L. Q. 1 (1958).

Frank E. A. Sander, Calvert Magruder in Legal Chowder: Lawyering and Judging in Massachusetts 137 (Rudolph Kass ed., MCLE 2002). KFM2478 .L44 2002.

Erwin C. Surrency, History of the Federal Courts (2d ed., Oceana 2002). KF8719 .S97 2001.

Symposium, Remembering Judge Frank M. Coffin: A Remarkable Legacy, 63 Me. L. Rev. 385 (2010-2011).

Circuit Court Materials

William Henry Clifford, Reports of Cases Determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, 1858-1878 (Little, Brown 1869-80). [Clifford's Reports]

B.R. Curtis, Reports of Cases Argued & Determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, 1851-1856 (Little, Brown 1854-1857). [Curtis's Circuit Court Reports]

Jabez S. Holmes, Reports of Cases Determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, 1870-1875 (Little Brown, 1877). [Holmes Reports]

William P. Mason, Reports of Cases Argued & Determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, 1816-1830 (Wells & Lilly 1819-1851). [Mason Reports]

Origins of the Federal Judiciary: Essays on the Judiciary Act of 1789 (Maeva Marcus, ed., Oxford University Press 1992). KF8719 .O75 1992.

Theodore Parker, The Trial of Theodore Parker, for the "Misdemeanor" of A Speech in Faneuil Hall against Kidnapping, Before the Circuit Court of the United States at Boston, April 3, 1855 with the Defense (Gaunt 1999). KF223 .P37 1855 Reprint 1999.

Hiller B. Zobel, Pillar of the Political Fabric: Federal Courts in Massachusetts, 1789-1815, 74 Mass. L. Rev. 197 (1989).

Hiller B. Zobel, Those Honorable Courts - Early Days on the First Circuit, 73 F.R.D. 511 (1977).