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Minnesota Court of Appeals 40th Anniversary

Historical background

The first Minnesota Supreme Court consisted of a chief justice and two associate justices. As caseloads swelled along with the population of Minnesota, the court asked the legislature for help. Additional justices were added in 1881, 1913, and 1930. 

In 1971, the National Center for State Courts began a Study of the Appellate System in Minnesota. The study evaluated the appellate courts in Minnesota, and in particular, the current caseloads and backlog of appellate cases. The report also projected future backlogs and caseloads based on forecasted trends. The study, released in 1973, urged the creation of an intermediate appellate court, or at the very least, adding two more justices to the Supreme Court. In 1973, two additional justices were added to the court, bringing the total to 9. 

Despite the addition of justices and commissioners, the court was still not able to accommodate the exponential growth of appellate cases. From 1957 to 1982, the number of annual filings in the Supreme Court increased from 213 to 1,682 - roughly a 700% increase. By 1977, the backlog for non-oral civil appeals was approximately 13.3 months, and the backlog for en banc criminal appeals was approximately 22.1 months. Things were so bad that the court sat in panels, avoided oral argument when possible, and wrote summary dispositions instead of full opinions. 

Proposals to create an intermediate court of appeals had been floated in the 1940s and again in the 1960s, but it wasn't until the situation was dire in the early 1980s that a real push was made to improve the system. 

Need for a change