United States District Court -vs- district court of the United States

    There is an argument currently making the rounds in the movement regarding a supposed distinction between the terms "United States District Court" and "district court of the United States." It appears that this contention is based in large part upon 28 U.S.C. 132, entitled "Creation and composition of district courts," which provides in part as follows:

"(a) There shall be in each judicial district a district court which shall be a court of record known as the United States District Court for the district."
    This argument regarding the alleged difference in these two phrases has its origins in the annotations or "revision notes" to this section of the Judicial Code. In both the official US Code and the private publishers' editions of the Code (USCA and USCS), there are annotations below the section which show the origins or source of the particular section. For 132's notes, the following is shown:

SOURCE

(June 25, 1948, ch. 646, 62 Stat. 895; Pub. L. 88-176, Sec. 2, Nov. 13, 1963, 77 Stat. 331.)
HISTORICAL AND REVISION NOTES
Based on title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Sec. 1, and section 641 of title 48, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Territories and Insular Possessions (Apr. 30, 1900, ch. 339, Sec. 86, 31 Stat. 158; Mar. 3, 1909, ch. 269, Sec. 1, 35 Stat. 838; Mar. 3, 1911, ch. 231, Sec. 1, 36 Stat. 1087; July 30, 1914, ch. 216, 38 Stat. 580; July 19, 1921, ch. 42, Sec. 313, 42 Stat. 119; Feb. 12, 1925, ch. 220, 43 Stat. 890; Dec. 13, 1926, ch. 6, Sec. 1, 44 Stat. 19).
  Section consolidates section 1 of title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., and section 641 of title 48, U.S.C., 1940 ed., with changes in phraseology necessary to effect the consolidation.
  Subsection (c) is derived from section 641 of title 48, U.S.C., 1940 ed., which applied only to the Territory of Hawaii. The revised section, by extending it to all districts, merely recognizes established practice.
  Other portions of section 1 of title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., are incorporated in sections 133 and 134 of this title.  The remainder of section 641 of title 48, U.S.C., 1940 ed., is incorporated in sections 91 and 133 of this title.
Advocates of this argument limit their examination of the origins of this section to "section 641 of title 48, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Territories and Insular Possessions," and erroneously conclude that a "United States District Court" is a territorial court like those established for Hawaii when it was a territory. This is a mistake as explained below. These advocates appear to ignore another source for 132 mentioned in these notes: "title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Sec. 1."

    Long ago after the Constitution went into effect, federal courts in the original 13 States were created. As States were thereafter admitted into the Union, later acts established courts for those States. By 1868, there were thus a variety of acts scattered through the Statutes at Large which related not only to the creation of these courts, but also other matters relating to the federal courts. These acts were all consolidated into a judicial title when the Revised Statutes were adopted in 1873. 

    But other States were admitted into the Union after 1873, and there were also acts of Congress which created federal courts for those States. By 1909, there were no longer any territories in the continental United States and it became particularly appropriate for all of these judiciary acts to again be consolidated. On March 3, 1911, this was done via the act published at 36 Stat. 1087. Section 1 of this act provided in pertinent part as follows:

"Sec. 1. In each of the districts described in chapter five, there shall be a court called a district court, for which there shall be appointed one judge, to be called a district judge...."
The districts described in chapter 5 of this act covered all of the States, some having several judicial districts. Again if interested, please read this long act.

    Have these various acts been consistent in the use of the terms "United States District Court" and "district court of the United States"? To determine that consistency, one need only examine the various acts establishing these courts for the last 200 years, and there must be several hundred such acts. Currently, the judicial districts are described in 28 U.S.C. 81 - 131. At the end of each section, there are "revision notes" which provide the citations to the prior acts regarding the federal courts in that particular State. Review of these prior acts shows that the terms "United States District Court" and "district court of the United States" have been used interchangeably.

     Here is an example. Title 28 U.S.C. 116 deals with the federal judicial districts in Oklahoma. The following are the notes to this section:

SOURCE

(June 25, 1948, ch. 646, 62 Stat. 887; Pub. L. 89-526, Sec. 1, Aug. 4, 1966, 80 Stat. 335.)
HISTORICAL AND REVISION NOTES
Based on title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Sec. 182, 182a (Mar. 3, 1911, ch. 231, Sec. 101, 36 Stat. 1122; Feb. 20, 1917, ch. 102, 39 Stat. 927; June 13, 1918, ch. 98, 40 Stat. 604; Feb. 26, 1919, ch. 54, 40 Stat. 1184; June 5, 1924, ch. 259, 43 Stat. 387; Jan. 10, 1925, chs. 68, 69, 43 Stat. 730, 731; Feb. 16, 1925, ch. 233, Sec. 1, 43 Stat. 945; May 7, 1926, ch. 255, 44 Stat. 408; Apr. 21, 1928, ch. 395, 45 Stat. 440; Mar. 2, 1929, ch. 539, 45 Stat. 1518; June 28, 1930, ch. 714, 46 Stat. 829; May 13, 1936, ch. 386, 49 Stat. 1271; Aug. 12, 1937, ch. 595, 50 Stat. 625).
Two of the statutes noted above were the predecessors of 116; see the acts of "Jan. 10, 1925, chs. 68, 69, 43 Stat. 730, 731." The first act read as follows:
"Chap. 68 An Act To amend the Act establishing the eastern judicial district of Oklahoma, to establish a term of the United States District Court for the Eastern Judicial District of Oklahoma at Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a term of the United States District Court for the Eastern Judicial District of the State of Oklahoma shall be held annually at Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, for the trial of civil and criminal cases, at such times as may be fixed by the judges of the eastern judicial district of Oklahoma: Provided, That suitable rooms and accommodations for holding court at Pauls Valley are furnished free of expense to the United States."

The following act also related to the very same courts:
"Chap. 69: An Act Providing for the holding of the United States district and circuit courts at Poteau, Oklahoma.

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a term of the district court of the United States for the eastern district of Oklahoma shall be held in each and every year in the town of Poteau, Oklahoma, beginning on the first Monday in October and continuing till the business is disposed of: Provided, That suitable rooms and accommodations for holding court at Poteau are furnished free of expense to the United States."

    It is easy to surmise why these statutes were adopted. The eastern district of Oklahoma is very large. Pauls Valley is south of Oklahoma City and Poteau is almost on the Arkansas state line. Obviously, people in these two communities wanted federal courts to at least visit those cities and conduct court, rather than those folks having to travel to some place like Muskogee. Congress responded and adopted these laws. Most likely, a Congressman from Poteau drafted the law at Chap. 69 while one from Pauls Valley drafted Chap. 68. The local folks obviously had to reserve local state courtrooms for use by the federal courts. In any event, these two laws regarding courts in the very same district used these terms interchangeably. This happens even today; see 7 USC 7468 (contains both phrases,  "district court of the United States" and "United States district court"). If you wish to read more, simply perform a word search at FindLaw for "United States District Court" and "district court of the United States."

    What happened with the names of the federal district courts is very easy to recount. Many single acts creating these courts back in the 19th century simply created federal "district courts" for specified States. The 1873 Revised Statutes' judiciary title also simply named these courts "district courts," and this was continued in the 1911 act. Based solely on the 1911 act, what Congress had created was just simply "district courts" located in a variety of places identified by law, i.e. "district courts" located in the various States. However, other acts of Congress identified these courts as "United States District Courts" although sometimes they were also identified generically as "district courts of the United States." The designation made by the law, just simply "district court," was not as formal as "United States District Court."

    But finally in 1948 when Congress was about ready to formally adopt Title 28, the revisors obviously noted that the term "district court" was not very formal. Why refer to federal courts in the law as simply "district courts" when they quite obviously needed a formal name? When Title 28 was adopted in June, 1948, a nomenclature change was made. Whereas before federal courts had been simply called "district courts" in the various acts consolidating the judicial acts, now in this new Code they were given a formal name: "United States District Courts." If you wish to understand what the titles of the Code are and how they were created, including Title 28, read "Titles of the Code."

     Some may be interested in this issue, but it clearly appears to lack any substance.

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