United States Customs Court
The United States Customs Court (USCC), originally called the Board of General Appraisers, was formed in 1890 to relieve a growing caseload in tariff and customs disputes. In 1980 it was abolished, with its jurisdiction being transferred to the new United States Court of International Trade.
History of the court
Establishment of the court as the Board of General Appraisers
In order to relieve the caseload of the U.S. district and circuit courts and to regularize the procedure for settling customs disputes, Congress in 1890 established a Board of General Appraisers to decide controversies related to appraisals of imported goods and classifications of tariffs. The appraisers were nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and could be removed by the president with cause. The Board operated under the direction of the secretary of the Treasury Department and heard appeals of decisions by customs officers. Although the secretary could order the appraisers to sit in any port in the country, the board and the courts that succeeded it have had their headquarters in New York City; at the time of establishment, and for most of the time since, this has been one of the busiest ports in the country. Appeals from the board’s decisions were reviewable by the U.S. circuit courts and, after their establishment in 1891, the U.S. circuit courts of appeals as well.
Establishment of the Court of Customs Appeals
The volume of appeals was so high that Congress in 1909 established a Court of Customs Appeals to hear all challenges to the decisions of the Board of General Appraisers.
Further expansion of the Board
In a series of acts over a period of nearly fifty years from its inception, Congress increased the judicial, as opposed to the administrative, character of the Board of General Appraisers. In 1908, the appraisers were granted authority to establish rules of evidence and procedure, they gained the same powers as a U.S. circuit court to compel testimony and punish contempt, and they were relieved of any responsibility for administrative duties assigned by the secretary of the Treasury.
Board of General Appraisers becomes United States Customs Court
An act of 1926 (44 Stat. 669) changed the name of the Board to the U.S. Customs Court, which name it retained until it was abolished in 1980. This act also provided that the appraisers would be known as the chief justice and justices of the court, although four years later the titles were changed to chief judge and associate judges. The Tariff Act of 1930 transferred administrative support for the customs court from the Treasury to the Justice Department. The revised Judicial Code of 1948 incorporated the customs court within the title governing the judiciary and declared that the judges of the customs court were among those entitled to hold office during good behavior.
Determination of constitutional status of the USCC as an Article III court
An act of 1956 declared that the court was established under Article III, thereby extending to the judges the same rights to tenure and undiminished salary that were guaranteed to judges of the district and appellate courts.
USCC merged into the new Court of International Trade
In 1980, Congress reorganized the U.S. Customs Court as the United States Court of International Trade (94 Stat. 1727). The nine judges of the Customs Court were transferred to service on the new court, the name of which signified its judicial functions and its expanded jurisdiction over cases related to trade. The act of 1980 declared that the court was established under Article III of the Constitution, thereby reaffirming the judges’ life tenure during good behavior and protection against diminution of salary. The act authorized nine judges for the court and required that no more than five of them be of the same political party affiliation. The U.S. Customs Court and its predecessor, the Board of General Appraisers, were established in an era when almost all trade litigation related to tariffs, and the panels served primarily to rule on the validity of decisions by administrative agencies. Although Congress expanded the judicial functions of the U.S. Customs Court, the sporadic legislation created confusion concerning the respective jurisdiction of that court and the U.S. district courts. Many litigants chose to file suits related to international trade in the district courts, and increasing numbers were dismissed. The imprecise division of jurisdiction also contributed to inconsistent rulings on trade matters. With the establishment of the new court in 1980, Congress signaled its intention to use the expertise of the Court of International Trade and the Court of Customs and Patents Appeals to handle federal judiciary’s trade litigation, which was much more likely to concern enforcement of trade agreements than disputes about tariffs. The U.S. Court of International Trade was granted the same judicial powers in law and equity that were exercised by U.S. district courts and was authorized to issue money judgments, writs of mandamus, and injunctions. The act gave the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals exclusive jurisdiction over appeals from the Court of International Trade. Congress also provided for the chief judge of the court to serve on the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Appraisers, Justices, Judges, and their terms of service
Adamson • Alger • Beckworth • Boe • Brown • Chamberlain • Cline • Cole • Cooper • Dallinger • De Vries • Ekwall • Evans • Fischer • Ford • Ham • Hay • Howell • Jewell • Johnson • Keefe • Kincheloe • Landis • Lawrence • Lunt • Maletz • McClelland • Mollison • Newman • Nichols • Oliver • Rao • Re • Richardson • Rosenstein • Sharpe • Sharretts • Shurtleff • Somerville • Stackpole • Sullivan • Tichenor • Tilson • Waite • Walker • Watson • Weller • Wilkinson • Wilson • Young