Deliberation and Strategy on the United States Courts of Appeals: An Empirical Exploration of Panel Effects
51 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2008 Last revised: 2 Sep 2008
Date Written: September 1, 2008
Recent studies have established that decision-making by federal court of appeals judges is influenced not only by the preferences of the judge, but also the preferences of her panel colleagues. Although the existence of these panel effects is well documented, the reasons they occur are less well understood. Scholars have proposed a number of competing theories to explain panel effects, but none has been established empirically. In this Article, I report an empirical test of two competing explanations of panel effects - one emphasizing deliberation internal to a circuit panel, the other hypothesizing strategic behavior on the part of circuit judges. The latter explanation posits that court of appeals judges act strategically in light of the expected actions of others, and that therefore, panel effects should depend upon how the preferences of the Supreme Court or the circuit en banc are aligned relative to those of the panel members. Analyzing votes in Title VII sex discrimination cases, I find no support for the theory that panel effects are caused by strategic behavior aimed at inducing or avoiding Supreme Court review. On the other hand, the findings strongly suggest that panel effects are influenced by circuit preferences. Both minority and majority judges on ideologically mixed panels differ in their voting behavior depending upon how the preferences of the circuit as a whole are aligned relative to the panel members. This study provides evidence that panel effects do not result from a dynamic wholly internal to the three judges hearing a case, but are influenced by the environment in the circuit as a whole as well.
Keywords: courts, judicial decision-making, judicial politics
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation