Histories & Proceedings

 

A Historical Overview

The old Southern District of California, with its headquarters in Los Angeles, was established on August 5, 1886. Eight decades later, San Diego and Imperial Counties became the new Southern District of California with its headquarters in San Diego.


T
he United States District Court for the Southern District of California, serving  San Diego and Imperial Counties, is relatively new in the organization of United States Courts. The old Southern District of California, with its headquarters in Los Angeles, was established on August 5, 1886.

On March 1, 1929, the old Southern District was divided into three divisions. San Diego and Imperial Counties were designated the Southern Division; Los Angeles and surrounding counties became the Central Division; and Fresno and its surrounding counties became the Northern Division. During this time, semi-annual court sessions were held in the Southern Division of the Southern District of California in San Diego. However, as early as 1931, more frequent and regular court sessions were held in San Diego. These sessions were presided over by judges from Los Angeles on a rotating basis. Court sessions were held in the Historic U.S. Post Office and Custom House adjacent to the City’s offices in downtown San Diego.


"On March 16, 1966, Congress passed Public Law 89-372, authorizing the division of California into four judicial districts: Northern, Eastern, Central, and Southern."

On November 1, 1949, the Honorable Jacob Weinberger was assigned as the first resident federal judge in San Diego, having been appointed as a judge for the old Southern District of California in Los Angeles in March 1946. Judges from Los Angeles continued to be assigned to San Diego on a rotating basis until April 1, 1956, when the Honorable James M. Carter was assigned as the second resident judge for San Diego. After Judge Weinberger assumed senior status in November 1958, the Honorable Fred Kunzel was appointed to fill Judge Weinberger’s seat in San Diego.

No other piece of equipment better represents our 40-year history than this original seal machine.


In 1961, the U.S. Post Office and Custom House was re-designated as the United States Courthouse, which would become the home of the new Southern District of California.

On March 16, 1966, Congress passed Public Law 89-372, authorizing the division of California into four judicial districts: Northern, Eastern, Central, and Southern. The law creating the new California judicial districts became effective six months later, on September 18, 1966. San Diego and Imperial Counties became the new Southern District of California with its headquarters in San Diego. Judge Carter presided as the first Chief Judge of the new Southern District of California.


To commemorate the Southern District of California being created as its own independent judicial district, an in-court ceremony was held on September 16, 1966. Ninth Circuit Judge Walter Ely presided over the ceremony along with Chief Judge Carter, and Judges Weinberger and Kunzel. Also present at this ceremony were Bankruptcy Referees Arline Rossi and Louis Karp; Commissioners Elmer Enstrom, Jr., J. Edward Harris and William Luddy, who also served as Chief Clerk of Court; Chief Deputy Clerk Margaret Kiesling; and Probation Officer in Charge Robert Knox.

Chief Judge Carter introduced the new U.S. Attorney, Edwin L. Miller, Jr. and the head of Federal Defenders, Inc., Harry Steward. Chief Judge Carter administered the oath of office to new U.S. Marshal, Wayne Burrell Colburn. Other distinguished guests included Alex Cory, President of the San Diego County Bar Association; Thomas R. Mitchell, President of Junior Barristers; Presiding Judge Gerald Brown, of the California District Court of Appeals; Presiding Judge George Lazar, of the San Diego Superior Court; and Presiding Judge Earl Cantos of the San Diego Municipal Court.


In 1966, when the Southern District of California was established in San Diego, the Court had two active judges and one senior judge.

Since 1966, 23 distinct judges have been appointed. In 2006, the Court has twelve active and five senior judges, with one vacant seat.




Top Right, Court sessions were held in the Historic U.S. Post Office and Custom House as early as 1931. In 1961, the building was redisignated as the U.S. Courthouse.


On Left, The District's first Chief Judge, James M. Carter and Clerk of Court Bill Luddy


In 1966, when the Southern District of California was established in San Diego, the Court had two active judges, Chief Judge Carter and Judge Kunzel and one senior judge, Judge Weinberger.


In 1970, Congress passed an omnibus bill creating three new judgeships for the Southern District of California. The Court continued doing business with five active district judges until 1980 when two additional judgeships were created. The Southern District of California got one additional judgeship in 1995, bringing the total number of active district judges in San Diego to eight. In 2003, following a period of judicial emergency, Congress approved a bill creating five new judgeships in the Southern District of California. In 2006, the Court has twelve active district judges, one vacant judicial seat, and five senior judges.

"In 2003, following period of judicial emergency, Congress approved a bill creating five new judgeships in the Southern District of California."


As the Southern District of California grew in its early years, so did the need for space. Modular buildings were used to add an annex onto the back of the U.S. Courthouse to provide supplemental courtroom space. On November 3, 1972, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and construction began for a new United States Courthouse and Federal Office Building in downtown San Diego.


"On November 3, 1972, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and construction began for a new United States Courthouse and Federal Office Building in downtown San Diego."


The new courthouse and federal building were to be located on three city blocks in the downtown Horton Plaza Redevelopment Area, consistent with President Nixon’s program to use Federal construction to aid community redevelopment.

The new five story courthouse was built to contain eight U.S. District Judge courtrooms, judges’ chambers, and the offices of the U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal. Building was completed in the summer of 1976 and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California moved into the new U.S. Courthouse.


In 1972, Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, Chief Judge Edward Schwartz, GSA Administrator Arthur Sampson and Congressman Bob Wilson broke ground for a new downtown U.S. Courthouse and Federal office building.



Another rendition detailing the spaciousness of the new courthouse.


On September 14, 1994, the U.S. Courthouse was officially renamed the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse.



"With the appointment of five new district judges, and the addition of five new magistrate judges since 1966, the Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse is not at full capacity.

On September 16, 1994, the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Office Building was officially re-named the Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse and Federal Building. At a ceremony attended by many of the District’s judicial officers, judicial staff, and Clerk’s Office staff, then-Chief Judge Judith N. Keep paid tribute to Judge Schwartz’s tremendous efforts in paving the way for the building of the courthouse and federal building.


James M. Carter and
Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse

In 1995, the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California was moved into the newly renovated original U.S. Post Office and Custom House and former U.S. Courthouse, located adjacent to the Federal Office Building. This gave room on the 5th floor of the Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse to build four additional district judge courtrooms and chambers.

Around the same time period, the Clerk’s Office moved to the 4th floor of the Federal Office Building, making room for the building of two new magistrate judges’ chambers and courtrooms, as well as offices for the Court’s pro se law clerks. Those new offices were completed and ready for occupancy in June 1996.

On November 2, 2002, Congress created 5 additional judgeships bringing the district to a total of 13 district judgeships. With the appointment of five new district judges, and the addition of five new magistrate judges between 1996 and 2006, the Edward J. Schwartz Courthouse was at full capacity. As a result, Congress authorized the building of a new federal courthouse in San Diego.


On December 3, 2012, court proceedings were held for the first time in the new San Diego courthouse annex. On December 15, 2014, legislation was passed by Congress to designate the new San Diego courthouse the James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep United States Courthouse, and the complex of federal buildings the John Rhoades Federal Judicial Center.