Divisional Judge-Shopping

48 Pages Posted: 17 May 2018

See all articles by Alex Botoman

Alex Botoman

Columbia University, Law School, Students

Date Written: April 8, 2018


In the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, major administration initiatives on immigration, transgender rights, and employee pay met their end at the hands of federal judges in the far reaches of Texas. The three venues for the cases had one important thing in common. Thanks to court-created judge-assignment rules, the plaintiffs were able to gain significantly more control over the judges selected to hear the cases by filing in smaller courthouses instead of major cities.

Many people assume that federal cases are assigned randomly across all judges in a district. But in reality, fifty-five of the nation’s ninety-four federal district courts are subdivided into geographic “divisions” that are used for judge assignment — essentially creating mini district courts, each with its own judges. In these districts, litigants can select the pool of judges eligible to be assigned to their cases by strategically choosing the division in which they file — a practice that this Note refers to as “divisional judge-shopping.”

Despite featuring in high-profile cases like the three filed by the state of Texas, divisional judge-shopping has drawn little attention. This Note fills the void by comprehensively surveying and reporting on the judge-assignment procedures used by the country’s ninety-four federal district courts, with an eye toward analyzing the extent to which they allow plaintiffs to engage in divisional judge- shopping. It argues that existing judge-assignment systems are insufficient to prevent divisional judge-shopping, especially in cases challenging federal and state laws, regulations, and policies. And it proposes that Congress implement standardized judge-assignment procedures in all districts to limit divisional judge-shopping opportunities.

Keywords: Judge-Shopping, Obama, Texas, Judge, Injunction

JEL Classification: K41, K40

Suggested Citation

Botoman, Alex, Divisional Judge-Shopping (April 8, 2018). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 49, No. 2, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3158778

Alex Botoman (Contact Author)

Columbia University, Law School, Students ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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