U.S. District Court for the District of Maine

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine has a long and fascinating history dating back to the earliest days of the American judicial system. As one of the original 13 federal districts formed in 1789, it has overseen legal proceedings that have shaped Maine’s society, economy, and politics for over 200 years. This article will explore the establishment of the District of Maine, its operations today, key issues and priorities, and what the future may hold for this important federal court. Understanding the workings of the district provides insights into federal justice in Maine.

History of the District Court


The District of Maine was officially established on September 24, 1789 under the new U.S. Constitution and Judiciary Act of 1789. This Act organized the federal court system and created district courts in each state. Maine was still part of Massachusetts at the time, so the District of Maine was the Massachusetts District until 1820 when Maine became a state. The court was then renamed the District of Maine.

Early Years

In its early years, the District of Maine court heard admiralty and maritime cases, civil actions, and a variety of other federal cases. The first District Judge was David Sewall who served from 1789 to 1818. Other notable early judges include Albion K. Parris, Ashur Ware, and Edward Fox. The court operated out of Portland starting in 1820 when Maine became a state. In the 19th century, it heard cases related to trade, smuggling, shipping seizures, and customs.

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Notable Cases

The District of Maine has adjudicated many influential cases over the centuries. Milestone cases include United States v. The William in 1808 which upheld the Congressional ban on the slave trade and expanded federal power over commerce. The court handled prosecutions under the Fugitive Slave Act in the 1850s as well. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, antitrust, bankruptcy, admiralty, and maritime cases filled the dockets. More recently, the court has ruled on diverse issues from Native American legal disputes to environmental lawsuits.

The District Today

Today the District of Maine continues to operate as part of the federal judiciary, handling both civil and criminal matters.

Geographic Boundaries

The District of Maine encompasses the entire state of Maine. With a population of 1.3 million people, it serves a sizable portion of the Northeast. The district contains 15 counties: Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo, Washington and York. From the rugged interior wilderness to the rocky coasts and islands, the district covers diverse landscapes and communities.

Staff and Administration

The District of Maine is currently authorized to have five district judges, along with magistrate and bankruptcy judges. The U.S. Attorney oversees criminal prosecutions for the district. The U.S. Marshal position is currently vacant. The Clerk’s Office handles administrative duties and court operations. As of 2022, 6,771 civil cases and 365 criminal cases were filed in the district.


The District of Maine is headquartered at the Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse at 156 Federal Street, Suite 124 in Portland. This historic building contains three courtrooms along with judges’ chambers and office space. The district also holds court sessions at facilities in Bangor to better serve northern and eastern parts of Maine.

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Caseloads and Operations

The District of Maine manages a substantial caseload spanning criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits in various areas of federal law. Cases involve issues related to federal regulations, maritime law, bankruptcy, patents, Social Security, environmental laws, Native American law, and more. Judges and staff handle scheduling, motions, hearings, trials, sentencing, and other facets of the judicial process for hundreds of cases annually.

Key Issues and Priorities

The District Court faces several key issues and priorities currently and in the years ahead.

Vacant Marshal Position

With no permanent U.S. Marshal appointed, the district has an acting Marshal overseeing security and handling other duties. Filling this top role is important for strong court administration.

Managing Caseloads

With limited judges and staff, managing the large volume of diverse civil and criminal cases poses challenges at times. Using case management procedures efficiently is a priority.

Court Improvements

Upgrading court facilities and technology to meet operational needs is an ongoing priority. The Portland courthouse requires continual improvements for accessibility, security, technology, and functionality.

Community Outreach

Conducting outreach to educate the Maine community about the federal courts and increase transparency is part of the district’s public service mission. This includes educational programs, website information, and other initiatives.

The Future of the District

Looking ahead, the District of Maine will continue evolving to meet Maine’s needs for federal judicial services. Priorities such as technology upgrades, caseload management, and community outreach initiatives will remain important in the future. The district’s judges and staff will adapt to changing laws, caseloads, and demographics to provide justice in Maine’s federal court. The District of Maine’s eventful history provides a foundation for this important judicial institution going forward.

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For over 200 years, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine has served a vital role in the federal judicial system and for the state of Maine. Its long history reflected Maine’s path from early statehood to today’s diverse society and economy. Despite challenges like heavy caseloads and vacant staff positions, the District of Maine continues operating effectively to carry out its duties. With diligent judges and administrators guiding the court, the District of Maine remains committed to its mission of fairly and efficiently delivering justice. The district’s unique history and contemporary operations make it an invaluable institution in Maine’s federal judicial framework.


Q: How many district judges serve in the District of Maine?

A: The District of Maine is authorized to have five district judge positions, although vacancies can occur.

Q: What was a major early case handled by the District of Maine?

A: An influential early case was United States v. The William in 1808 which upheld the Congressional ban on the slave trade.

Q: How many courthouses does the District of Maine operate?

A: It is headquartered at the Edward T. Gignoux Courthouse in Portland, but also holds sessions at a facility in Bangor.

Q: What types of cases does the district handle today?

A: Both civil and criminal cases involving federal laws and regulations including maritime law, bankruptcy, patents, environment, and more.

Q: What is a current priority for the District of Maine?

A: Priorities include technology upgrades, caseload management, facilities improvements, and community outreach initiatives.

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