Decisionmaking on Multimember Courts: The Assignment Power in the Circuits

39 Pages Posted: 10 May 2017 Last revised: 28 Mar 2019

See all articles by Daniel Jacob Hemel

Daniel Jacob Hemel

University of Chicago - Law School

Kyle Rozema

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: March 25, 2019

Abstract

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

Hemel, Daniel Jacob and Rozema, Kyle, Decisionmaking on Multimember Courts: The Assignment Power in the Circuits (March 25, 2019). Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 17-05; University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 822; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 646. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2965880 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2965880

Daniel Jacob Hemel (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Kyle Rozema

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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