The Shadow Judiciary
56 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2019 Last revised: 2 Apr 2020
Date Written: July 25, 2019
Magistrates function as a sort of shadow judiciary, assisting U.S. district court judges — and sometimes standing in their shoes — in managing caseloads, resolving disputes, making law, and choosing winners and losers. Yet we lack basic knowledge about magistrates themselves, the rules that govern their activity, and the ways in which they execute their duties. To fill those gaps, this Article offers a detailed typology of the district-level local rules and standing orders that govern magistrate operations in civil cases. It also describes a case study of ten years of magistrate practice in a single federal district court, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, in resolving summary judgment motions in employment law cases. The case study reveals that the involvement of a magistrate makes a difference to the outcome, and that the way that a magistrate became involved (by automatic operation of court rules, by consent of the parties, or by the discretion of the district judge) matters as well. These findings suggest multiple avenues for future research, nationwide, to understand the complexities of the interactions between magistrates and district judges, and the role of magistrates more generally.
Keywords: federal civil litigation, magistrate judges, text mining, court data, judicial decision making
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