Decisionmaking on Multimember Courts: The Assignment Power in the Circuits
39 Pages Posted: 10 May 2017 Last revised: 27 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 26, 2021
In cases heard by multimember courts, one judge usually has the primary responsibility for assigning the majority opinion. In this article, we investigate whether this “assignment power” affects outcomes on three-judge panels in the U.S. federal circuit courts. To do so, we gather novel data on all circuit court cases published between 1993 and 2007, identifying the judge with primary opinion-assignment responsibility in each one. Under circuit rules, the same judge may have the assignment power on one panel and not on the next, depending on the composition of each panel and the relative seniority of its members. Exploiting between- and within-circuit variation in institutional procedures that determine the assignment power, we estimate that the assignment power reduces the probability that a judge dissents by 16 percent. 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, Panel Effects, Status, Hierarchy
JEL Classification: K41, M51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation