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The Rising Caseload in the Fourth Circuit: A Statistical and Institutional Analysis


Shaun M. Pettigrew


University of Minnesota Law School

David R. Stras


Minnesota Supreme Court

March 17, 2010

South Carolina Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 3, 2010
Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-15

Abstract:     
This symposium essay explores the transformation of the federal appellate courts through the lens of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Nationwide, circuit courts have experienced rapidly expanding dockets, which by necessity has led to a transformation in the way these courts conduct their business. For instance, the average active circuit judge in the Fourth Circuit now hears more than twice as many appeals as in 1979.

These crushing caseloads have led to a variety of reform measures, only some of which are transparent. For instance, the percentage of cases terminated on the merits following oral argument has plummeted from 95 percent of cases in the Fourth Circuit in 1979 to a modern low of just 12 percent in 2006. Similarly, the percentage of cases decided through published opinions has decreased by more than 50% since 1989. In addition to procedural reforms, the Fourth Circuit has dramatically increased the number of staff attorneys to handle routine cases that are decided without oral argument. These reforms, plus others, are critically examined in this Essay.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: Fourth Circuit, Caseloads, Docket, Law Clerks, Unpublished Opinions

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Date posted: March 23, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Pettigrew, Shaun M. and Stras, David R., The Rising Caseload in the Fourth Circuit: A Statistical and Institutional Analysis (March 17, 2010). South Carolina Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 3, 2010; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-15. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1573880

Contact Information

Shaun M. Pettigrew
University of Minnesota Law School ( email )
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
David R. Stras (Contact Author)
Minnesota Supreme Court ( email )
25 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55155
United States
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