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Attending to the Nation's Business Within the Commonwealth

A Brief Historical Survey of the Anomalous Role of the United States District Court in the Massachusetts Judicial System

"...The history of the federal courts in Massachusetts may be divided into three periods. Each period witnessed development of a distinctive aspect to the separate role of the federal courts in the Commonwealth's legal system. The initial, or classical period, during which the basic but limited jurisdiction of the federal courts was defined and exercised, extended from their establishment in 1789 until 1935, when challenges to New Deal initiatives confronted the Massachusetts federal bench.

The transitional period, involving realignment of the role of the federal courts as a consequence of the New Deal and the doctrine of Erie v. Tompkins, can be dated from 1935 to 1959, when the first of the judges to have served in World War II was appointed.

The current period, from 1960 to the present, finds the modern Massachusetts federal court concerned with the problem of policing the governmental institutions of the commonwealth.

The development of the several aspects to the role of the federal court has been cumulative and, to some degree, aspects to the role which later became prominent were foreshadowed in earlier periods. Nevertheless, this liear taxonomy provides a legible approach to the history of the federal court in Massachusetts over the past two centuries..."

- 1993 Annual Report of the [Massachusetts] Supreme Judicial Court 77 (1994)

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