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District Courts; Supreme Courts

District Courts; Supreme Courts




When the voters had adopted Article VII (Amended) in 1910, they had relaxed constitutional restrictions on the courts that could exist in the state, vesting the judicial power "in one supreme court and in such other courts as may from time to time be created by law."1 In 1913, the Legislature exercised that authority for the first time, creating the first district court.2 The district courts were, in large part, a substitute for justice courts in urban areas, having (like justice courts) limited civil and criminal jurisdiction.3By 1997 -- the last year in which district courts existed -- 30 of Oregon's 36 counties had district courts.4 (For more on the consolidation of district courts and the circuit courts, please see the discussion regarding consolidation in 1998.)


Also in 1913, the Legislature expanded the Supreme Court to its current complement of seven justices.5 The first two new justices were William M. Ramsey and Charles L. McNary.6 The number of Supreme Court justices has remained fixed at seven ever since.7


With the expansion of the court, the Legislature also authorized the court to hear and decide cases in departments of three justices each.8 But the Chief Justice alone, or any four associate justices together, could order a case to be heard "in bank" by the full court.9 The authority for the Supreme Court to sit in departments continues to this day, and while the Court has sat in departments at times, it does not do so at the present.10 The last decision issued by a department of the Supreme Court appears to have been Thompson v. Department of Revenue, 287 Or 297, 597 P2d 1250 (1979).



FN1. Or Const, Art VII (Amended), § 1.
FN2. See Or Laws 1913, ch 355, § 1 (creating a district court for "every city of 100,000 population or more," though the court was styled as the district court for that county). At the time the statute was written, it applied only to Portland (Multnomah County). See Fred Leeson, Rose City Justice: A Legal History of Portland, Oregon 88-89 (1998) (Portland was the only city that met the population requirement); Roland Johnson et al., Justice Courts in Oregon, 53 Or L Rev 411, 415 (1974) (noting that justice courts in Oregon had been superseded in urban areas, "[s]tarting in 1913 with the replacement of justice courts in Multnomah County with a district court"); Statute Revision Council, 1 Legislative History, Reviser's Notes and Annotations for the Oregon Revised Statutes 511 (1953) ("A district court for Multnomah County was created in 1913.")
FN3. Johnson, 53 Or L Rev at 415 (describing "supersession" of district courts for justice courts); see, e.g., Or Laws 1913, ch 355, §§ 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 35 (explicitly incorporating various laws applicable to justice courts, while otherwise prohibiting justice courts within qualifying cities).
FN4. Oregon Blue Book 1997-98, at 137 (1997).
FN5. Or Laws 1913, ch 167, § 1.
FN6. Officers of the Supreme Court, 65 Or (iii) (1913).
FN7. See ORS 2.010 (setting number of justices at seven).
FN8. Or Laws 1913, ch 167, § 4.
FN9. Id. 9
FN10. ORS 2.111 (authorizing departments). For a list of the original assignments of justices to 10 departments, see 65 Or (iv) (1913). For an early example of a decision heard by a department of the Supreme Court, see Jones v. National Laundry Co., 66 Or 218, 133 P 1178 (1913).

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