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Judicial Improvements and Access to Justice Act

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Description: Public Law 102-702, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, placed stringent limits on the types of cases that the Supreme Court is required to hear on appeal.


Significance: The first sweeping act of judicial reform since the Judiciary Act of 1925, the Judicial Improvements and Access to Justice Act practically eliminated the mandatory appeals jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, giving the justices virtually complete control over selection of cases to be heard by the Court.


Passed by Congress to address the concerns of justices about the growing caseload of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Improvements and Access to Justice Act repealed the Court's obligation to review decisions by lower courts striking down acts of Congress and state laws as unconstitutional, as well as decisions of state supreme courts that questioned the validity of federal laws or treaties. The act left cases involving reapportionment of congressional and state legislative districts as the only major category of cases that the Court was still mandated to hear on appeal. The act was a continuation of a trend on the part of the Congress to reduce incrementally the Court's mandatory jurisdiction (types of cases that the Court is legally obligated to hear) by routing increasing numbers of cases through the process of certiorari, in which the Court has the final say as to whether it will hear a case. Following the passage of the act, the Court heard dramatically fewer cases on appeal and increasingly decided these cases summarily, without hearing arguments or rendering formal opinions.