Decisionmaking on Multimember Courts: The Assignment Power in the Circuits
39 Pages Posted: 10 May 2017 Last revised: 28 Mar 2019
Date Written: March 25, 2019
A standard assumption in the judicial behavior literature holds that decisions of multimember courts conform to the preferences of the median judge. Judges and scholars have suggested, however, that the judge with the power to assign the panel opinion wields disproportionate influence regardless of whether she is the median member. In this article, we investigate whether the “assignment power” systematically affects outcomes on three-judge panels across all federal circuits. We find that the judge with the assignment power is significantly less likely to dissent—an indication that assigning judges are more likely to be satisfied with case outcomes. We find evidence that assigning judges influence case outcomes through strategic assignment of opinions to other panel members, rather than through strategic self-assignment of majority opinions. Our results suggest that decisionmaking on multimember courts is shaped not only by panel composition but also by the allocation of the assignment power among panel members.
Keywords: judicial behavior, opinion assignment, courts of appeals, median voter theorem
JEL Classification: K41, M51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation