56 Pages Posted: 17 May 2013 Last revised: 6 Jan 2014

See all articles by Toby J. Heytens

Toby J. Heytens

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: December 20, 2013


This article is about something federal courts of appeals have done for more than 50 years and more than 600 times. That thing is reassignment, a practice where a reviewing court returns a case to a lower court for further proceedings while also directing that those proceedings be conducted by a different trial judge. Drawing on an examination of the local rules and informal reassignment practices of every federal circuit and district in the United States, as well as an original dataset of 668 decisions in which reassignment was ordered, this article represents the first scholarly examination of when reassignment happens, who orders it, and how it is ordered. More broadly, this article uses reassignment as a way to explore the various ways that appellate courts can seek to control trial judges and influence trial court outcomes. It also discusses what reassignment can teach us about notions of judicial impartiality and neutrality, as well as familiar debates about whether legal tests are better expressed through rules or standards and the extent to which it is desirable for judges to give reasons for their decisions.

Keywords: recusal, reassignment, appellate review, courts

Suggested Citation

Heytens, Toby J., Reassignment (December 20, 2013). Stanford Law Review, Forthcoming; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2013-16. Available at SSRN: or

Toby J. Heytens (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
202-257-2635 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics