The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit hears appeals from the district courts of the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. With one exception, each state is a single federal district, for example the District of Colorado.

Oklahoma, however, is divided into an Eastern, a Northern, and a Western district.

Why? Are the federal courts of Oklahoma busier than those of the other states? The obvious answer is population, but Colorado is substantially more populous than Oklahoma. Nor is the population of Oklahoma more dispersed than, say, that of Kansas.

How did this happen? Is there a reason for it?

  • This blog post by Josh Blackman relates how he clerked in a division so small that it had only one judge. Blackman says: “Why is there a federal court there? …Johnstown was represented by Representative Jack Murtha, who was known as the "King of Pork." … The federal court brought lots of other jobs to the area. If there is a federal judge, there must also be a U.S. Attorneys office, a federal probation office, marshals…”. Maybe the explanation for Oklahoma is a congress person diverting federal money to their constituents. Feb 23, 2023 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


Oklahoma Territory and The Indian Territories were set on the road to statehood by the Oklahoma Enabling Act: §13 of that act stipulated that two judicial districts would be created, where The Indian Territories would be the Eastern District and Oklahoma Territory would be the Western district. This is an ancient-enough political act that we can't say why Congress decided to give the constituent parts separate courts, however legal issues regarding tribes are different from other aspects of federal law, so it would be sensible to have a specialized district for special cases. In 1925, Congress reorganized the two districts into three. I think that is as far as one can go with the legal aspect of the question, but there may be a historical political explanation

  • "This is an ancient-enough political act that we can't say why Congress decided to give the constituent parts separate courts": because Congress didn't keep records back in those days?
    – phoog
    Dec 5, 2022 at 6:43
  • @phoog Official legislative history is still spotty at best.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 5, 2022 at 18:25
  • @ohwilleke but it's there nonetheless. We know a good deal about the debates that led to the adoption of the reconstruction amendments, for example (which happened a few decades before this act was passed). Dismissing the possibility of determining why the choice was made simply because the act is "ancient" is not a particularly responsible way to answer the question.
    – phoog
    Dec 6, 2022 at 10:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .