Academic journal article Journal of Appellate Practice and Process

A History of the Missouri Court of Appeals: The Role of Regional Conflicts in Shaping Intermediate Appellate Court Structure

Academic journal article Journal of Appellate Practice and Process

A History of the Missouri Court of Appeals: The Role of Regional Conflicts in Shaping Intermediate Appellate Court Structure

Article excerpt


During the course of the history of the American legal system, appellate courts have steadily gained importance. While there was no right to an appeal in a criminal case in the early portion of American history, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, most jurisdictions provide for a right to an appeal, either by rule or statute. (1) Currently, many people simply assume that there is a universal right to some type of appeal. (2)

Appellate courts correct procedural errors that occur in trial courts and help interpret and define the law, increasing the accuracy of judicial determinations and the legitimacy of the decisions made by the court system. (3) These courts ensure "that the law is interpreted and applied correctly and uniformly." (4) Furthermore, in the large majority of cases in which an appeal is filed the final determination is rendered by an intermediate appellate court. (5) Thus, the intermediate appellate court is an ever-more important part of the American justice system.

Despite this critical role and the fact that state intermediate appellate courts have existed for over 150 years, the historiography of state intermediate appellate courts is still in its infancy. There has been some good work regarding the federal courts of appeals, (6) but with respect to the state intermediate appellate courts, the work has generally been in the nature of chronicles rather than histories. That is, the writers explain the laws that were passed and provide biographical information about some of the key players and first judges without providing analysis of cause and effect. (7) This has left the impression that there is a simple reason explaining the development and structure of intermediate appellate courts: They function to relieve supreme courts of crushing workloads. (8) This treatment fails to explain why intermediate appellate courts assumed the structure they ultimately did and so provides little help for those interested in improving the structure and function of state intermediate appellate courts.

Among the most pressing problems facing American appellate courts over the past 150 years has been the issue of increasing numbers of cases. One response to this problem has been the creation of intermediate courts of appeal. (9) Missouri was one of the first states to experiment with a two-tier appellate system employing an intermediate appellate court. (10) For that reason, examining the development of Missouri's appellate system may be useful for students of all state intermediate appellate courts.

This article contributes to the development of a more nuanced view of the social and political forces that shape the structure of state intermediate appellate courts by looking closely at the creation of the Missouri Court of Appeals. It first examines the public documents available regarding the creation of the Missouri Court of Appeals during the period from 1865 through 1910. This examination shows that while the caseload of the Supreme Court of Missouri was a factor in convincing politicians of the need for intermediate appellate courts of appeal, political and social factors--especially the conflict between different regional interests within the state--were the driving force in determining the ultimate structure and organization of the Missouri Court of Appeals. Next, the article examines how constitutional amendments in the mid-twentieth century pushed the Missouri Court of Appeals toward a more unified system. The article ends with a brief discussion of current features of the Missouri appellate system, which suggest that the regional forces that shaped the structure of the system initially still have power today.


From the state's inception until 1865, Missouri, like all of the states and the federal government, had a single-tier appellate system. …

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