Retelling the History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

Originally published in NYLitigator - Summer 2012 Vol. 17.

About eighty years ago, Judge Charles Merrill Hough provided a history of the first 130 years of the “Mother Court,” the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Some years later, Judge John Knox’s autobiography1 added to Judge Hough’s description of the Court’s development from its inception more than 220 years ago. Since then, distinguished judges have supplemented the record regarding the Southern District’s place in the history of our federal judiciary. In the early 1980s, Judges Edward Weinfeld, Eugene Nickerson and Roger Miner delivered lectures on the histories of the Southern District and its progeny: the Northern, Eastern and Western Districts of New York. Because more than a generation of lawyers have begun practicing since Judge Miner delivered his lecture in 1984, we thought the time was right to retell the history of our nation’s “Mother Court.” In retelling this history, we have drawn heavily from the histories prepared by Judges Hough, Knox, Weinfeld, Nickerson and Miner, as well as work done by H. Paul Burak some fifty years ago.

Beginnings -

In its first session following the adoption of the United States Constitution, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Act, amongst other things, created the Supreme Court, as well as the Circuit and District Courts.2 As this brief history demonstrates, the structure and size of the federal system has changed dramatically over the past 220 years.

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