In 1961, Judge John T. Hood, Jr., of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal published an article entitled History of the Courts of Appeal in Louisiana in the Louisiana Law Review, Vol. XXI. The following are selected excerpts from that article:
Intermediate appellate courts, known as courts of appeal, were established in Louisiana in 1879. A number of changes in the organization and jurisdiction of these courts have been brought about by the adoption of new constitutions, by amendments to those constitutions, and by legislative acts.
Prior to 1879 there were no intermediate appellate courts in this state. For approximately one year after the Louisiana Territory was acquired by the United States in 1803, Governor Claiborne, being vested with almost dictatorial powers, served as the court of last resort in the territory for all matters, both civil and criminal. On March 26, 1804, the superior court for the Territory of Orleans, consisting of three judges, was created. This court convened initially on November 5, 1804, and it replaced Claiborne as the supreme judicial authority.
When Louisiana was admitted to the Union in 1812, the Louisiana Supreme Court was established as the highest and only appellate court in the state, its jurisdiction being limited, however, to appeals in civil cases. About thirty years later a new court, known as the Court of Errors and Appeals in Criminal Matters, was created to consider and determine appeals in criminal matters. This court held sessions from July 1843 to February 1846, but it was abolished with the adoption of the Constitution of 1845, which gave the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction in criminal as well as civil cases.
The Constitution of 1864 created a Supreme Court of five justices to be appointed by the governor. Courts of appeal were created by the Constitution of 1879 in order to relieve the congested docket of the Supreme Court. This constitution provided for the creation of six courts of appeal in the state. One of these courts was designated as the Court of Appeal for the Parish of Orleans, and it was vested with jurisdiction in appeals only from that parish. The rest of the state was divided into five circuits, numbered from one to five, with a court of appeal created for each. The First Circuit was composed of fourteen parishes located in the northwestern portion of the state; the Second Circuit included parishes in the northeastern part; the Third Circuit was composed of parishes in the central and southwestern part of the state; the Fourth Circuit included the Florida parishes and those around the Baton Rouge area; and the Fifth Circuit covered the parishes along the Mississippi River and the sugar belt in South Louisiana.
The six courts of appeal created by the Constitution of 1879 were composed of two judges each, with the provision that when both judges concurred their judgment was to become final, but when they disagreed, the judgment appealed from, should stand affirmed. This provision of the constitution soon proved to be impracticable, so in 1884 the constitution was amended to provide that when the two judges on any court disagreed, they were required to appoint a lawyer possessing the qualifications for a judge of the court of appeal of their circuit, who would aid in the determination of the case, and that a judgment concurred in by any two of them should be final.
The courts of appeal created by the Constitution of 1879 existed for approximately twenty years, but by that time, public sentiment had been built up to the effect that courts of appeal were too expensive and should be abolished. A constitutional convention was called in 1898; the three primary purposes of that convention being to prohibit lotteries, to make changes in the laws relating to suffrage, and to reform the judiciary. Most of the delegates to this convention recognized the need for some type of intermediate appellate court, but they felt that something had to be done to decrease the cost of litigation.
The Constitution of 1898 enlarged the Court of Appeal for the Parish of Orleans to three judges and provided that the territorial jurisdiction of that court should be increased to include appeals from the Parishes of Jefferson, St. Charles, Plaquemine, and St. Bernard, in addition to those from the Parish of Orleans. The courts of appeal in the rest of the state, however, were practically abolished as separate and distinct courts. Article 99 provided that the five courts of appeal which existed in the rest of the state should remain as then constituted until the first day of July, 1900. From that day until July 1, 1904, each of said courts was to consist of the court of appeal judge whose term had not expired and one district judge to be designed and assigned to that duty by the Supreme Court. No other circuit court judges were to be elected, and after July 1, 1904, the five courts of appeal outside of Orleans Parish were to be composed of two district judges to be from time to time designated by the supreme court and assigned to the performance of duties of judges of said courts of appeal.
The provisions of the 1898 Constitution abolishing most of the courts of appeal as separate courts also proved to be unworkable, so by amendments to the constitution adopted on November 6, 1906, another important change was made. A three-judge Court of Appeal for the Parish of Orleans was continued, but the jurisdiction of that court was further enlarged to include appeals from the Parishes of St. James and St. John the Baptist, in addition to the five parishes already included in the jurisdiction of that court. The rest of the state was divided into two circuits, with a court of appeal consisting of three judges for each of those circuits. The First Circuit consisted roughly of all parishes in the southern half of the state, except for the seven parishes included in the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal for the Parish of Orleans; and the Second Circuit included all parishes in the northern half of the state. The judges of these new courts were elected on January 16, 1907, for terms beginning on March 1, 1907. The three courts of appeal created at that time existed until July 1, 1960.
In 1958, the Constitution of 1921 was amended, effective July 1, 1960, to realign the territorial jurisdictions of the courts of appeal and to create an additional court of appeal. The First Circuit domiciled in Baton Rouge consisted of sixteen parishes in the southeastern part of the state, excluding the New Orleans metropolitan area. The Second Circuit domiciled in Shreveport consisted of twenty parishes in the northern part of the state. The Third Circuit domiciled in Lake Charles consisted of twenty-one parishes in the southwestern part of the state. The Fourth Circuit domiciled in New Orleans consisted of seven parishes in the metropolitan area. The First, Third, and Fourth Circuits consisted of five judges each, and the Second Circuit had four judges. The courts of appeal had civil jurisdiction only.
Over the years, additional judgeships were added to the existing circuits. In 1980, the Constitution was amended to add criminal jurisdiction to the courts of appeal, effective July 1, 1982. With the addition of criminal jurisdiction to the courts of appeal, the Fourth Circuit was split into the Fourth and Fifth Circuits with the Fourth Circuit domiciled in New Orleans and composed of the Parishes of Orleans, Plaquemine and St. Bernard. The Fifth Circuit was domiciled in Gretna and composed of the Parishes of Jefferson, St. Charles, St. James, and St. John the Baptist. Currently, the First Circuit has twelve judges sitting, the Second Circuit has nine judges sitting, the Third Circuit has twelve judges sitting, the Fourth Circuit has twelve judges sitting and the Fifth Circuit has eight judges sitting.