The Use of Legal Scholarship by the Federal Courts of Appeals: An Empirical Study

30 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2010 Last revised: 21 Aug 2012

Date Written: August 17, 2010

Abstract

Chief Justice Roberts recently explained that he does not pay much attention to law review articles, reportedly stating that they are not “particularly helpful for practitioners and judges.” Chief Justice Roberts’s criticism echoes that made by other judges, some of whom, like Judge Harry Edwards, have been much more strident in the contention that legal scholarship is largely unhelpful to practitioners and judges. Perhaps inspired by criticisms like those leveled by Chief Justice Roberts and Judge Edwards, legal scholars have sought to investigate the relevance of legal scholarship to courts and practitioners using a variety of means. One avenue of investigation has been empirical, where several studies, using different, and sometimes ambiguous, methodologies have observed a decrease in citation to legal scholarship and interpreted the observation to mean that legal scholarship has lost relevance to courts and practitioners.

The study reported here examines the hypothesis that legal scholarship has lost relevance to courts. Using empirical techniques and an original dataset that is substantially more comprehensive than those used in previous studies, it examines citation to legal scholarship by the United States circuit courts of appeals over the last 59 years. It finds a rather surprising result. Contrary to the claims of Justice Roberts and Judge Edwards, and contrary to the results of prior studies, this study finds that over the last 59 years there has been a marked increase in the frequency of citation to legal scholarship in the reported opinions of the circuit courts of appeals. Using empirical and theoretical methods, this study also considers explanations for courts’ increased use of legal scholarship.

Keywords: Law Reviews, Law and Courts, Judges, Circuit Courts, Legal Scholarship, Law Journals, Empirical, Law and Society

Suggested Citation

Schwartz, David L. and Petherbridge, Lee, The Use of Legal Scholarship by the Federal Courts of Appeals: An Empirical Study (August 17, 2010). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 96, p. 1345, 2011; 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper; Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2010-38. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1640681

David L. Schwartz

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Lee Petherbridge (Contact Author)

Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )

919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-8194 (Phone)
213-380-3769 (Fax)

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