The Mechanics of Federal Appeals: Uniformity and Case Management in the Circuit Courts

77 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2011 Last revised: 26 Dec 2014

See all articles by Marin K. Levy

Marin K. Levy

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: August 1, 2011


Case-management practices of appellate courts define the judicial review of appeals. The circuit courts constantly make decisions about which cases will receive oral argument, which will have dispositions written by staff attorneys in lieu of judges, and which will result in unpublished opinions - decisions that exert a powerful influence on the quality of justice that can be obtained from the federal appellate courts. Despite their importance, there has been no in-depth review of the case-management practices of the different circuit courts in the academic literature.

This Article begins to fill that void. It first documents and analyzes the practices of five circuit courts using qualitative research from a series of interviews of appellate judges, clerks of court, court mediators, and staff attorneys. This thorough account of case management reveals the great extent to which these practices vary across circuits. The Article considers reasons for the variation and asks whether such a lack of uniformity is problematic in a federal system. The Article concludes that disuniformity in case management is more defensible than in substantive and procedural law, but that current practices can and should be improved through increased transparency and information sharing between the circuits.

Keywords: courts, appeals, judges, case management

Suggested Citation

Levy, Marin K., The Mechanics of Federal Appeals: Uniformity and Case Management in the Circuit Courts (August 1, 2011). Duke Law Journal, Vol. 61, p. 315, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Marin K. Levy (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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