Though the Clerk of the Supreme Court is empowered by Rule 30.4 to act upon most applications and motions which seek an enlargement of a filing deadline, he is specifically prohibited from acting on an application to extend the time to file a petition for writ of certiorari.  All such applications must be addressed to and acted upon by a specific circuit Justice, or the entire Court.

So which Justice sits in your circuit?  And how did the concept of circuit Justices originate?

The Judiciary Act of 1789 originally established a Court with one chief Justice and five associate Justices.  The size of the Court grew to accommodate the establishment of new circuits as the nation expanded.  A seventh Justice was added in 1807, and an eighth and ninth followed in 1837.  A tenth Justice was added in 1863, though his seat was contracted three years later.  Congressional act now mandates the Court be composed of nine Justices.

For the first 101 years of the Court’s existence, Justices were required to spend most of their time traveling around the country on horseback or in carriages to sit as circuit judges – known as “circuit riding.”  Without circuit riding, it was said, Supreme Court Justices would be cut off from the political, cultural, and legal life of the rest of the nation.

As the nation grew and the federal judiciary’s docket swelled, the position of Supreme Court Justice soon became, in the words of Justice McKinley, “the most onerous and laborious of any in the United States.” Many Justices had to travel over a thousand miles each year, often in perilous conditions.


  •  Chief Justice John Jay, who resigned in 1795 to become New York’s governor, refused to accept reappointment by President John Adams when the post became vacant again in 1800 due to the inconvenience of travel and time spent away from home.
  •  Chief Justice John Marshall, whom Adams appointed in 1801, was once thrown from a carriage, fracturing his collar bone while riding the circuit.
  •  “Old Bacon Face” (Justice Samuel Chase) had to traverse the Susquehanna River to get from Baltimore to Wilmington on his circuit adventures.  Chase – the only Justice to ever be impeached – once fell into the river and had to be fished out by onlookers (perhaps from a nearby HAMlet!).
  •  Justice Stephen Johnson Field, Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 appointee, was expected to travel from Washington, D.C. to California to hear his circuit’s cases.  He would typically catch a boat in Baltimore, set sail to Panama, cross land by donkey, and finally sail north up California’s Gold Coast to San Francisco.

Today, Justices simply hold week-long conference each year in a city located in their respective circuits.

Current Allotment Order

  • For the District of Columbia Circuit – John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice
  • For the First Circuit – Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice
     (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island)
  • For the Second Circuit – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice (Connecticut, New York, Vermont)
  • For the Third Circuit – Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Island)
  • For the Fourth Circuit – John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia)
  • For the Fifth Circuit – Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Associate Justice (Lousiana, Mississippi, Texas)
  • For the Sixth Circuit – Elena Kagan, Associate Justice (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee)
  • For the Seventh Circuit – Elena Kagan, Associate Justice (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin)
  • For the Eighth Circuit – Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota)
  • For the Ninth Circuit – Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice (Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Washington)
  • For the Tenth Circuit – Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming)
  • For the Eleventh Circuit – Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice (Alabama, Florida, Georgia)
  • For the Federal Circuit – John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice.

For an in-depth look at how to file for a motion of extension of time, including what constitutes “good cause” under Rule 13.5, read our blog post: “How to File for an Extension of Time.”