Neutral Assignment of Judges at the Court of Appeals
80 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2007
Judges on panels at the US Court of Appeals are not intended to represent a mosaic of society. They bring an assortment of biases and predispositions to the decision making process. Judicial integrity is ostensibly protected, however, through the use of neutral assignment. Judges are assigned to panels randomly, without consideration of the particular cases to be decided.
In fact, this is not necessarily the case. In 1963, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit alleged that membership on panels had been deliberately skewed to ensure a pro-civil rights majority. An analysis of the historical circumstances surrounding the allegations indicates that the allegations were probably true.
Could it happen again? A review of the assignment process used by the federal appellate courts indicates that, in general, most do not have in place adequate procedures designed to guarantee neutral assignment of judges at the US Court of Appeals. As a result, it is possible that judges could be assigned to panels at the court of appeals on a non-neutral basis.
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