The Rising Caseload in the Fourth Circuit: A Statistical and Institutional Analysis
24 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2010
Date Written: March 17, 2010
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.
Keywords: Fourth Circuit, Caseloads, Docket, Law Clerks, Unpublished Opinions
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