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Article   |   Volume 157, Issue 5

Deliberation and Strategy on the United States Courts of Appeals: An Empirical Exploration of Panel Effects

By
Pauline T. Kim

May 2009










Recent studies have established that the decisions of a federal court of appeals judge are influenced not only by the preferences of the judge, but also by the preferences of her panel colleagues. Although the existence of these “panel effects” is well documented, the reasons that they occur are less well understood. Scholars have proposed a number of competing theories to explain panel effects, but none has been established empirically. In Deliberation and Strategy on the United States Courts of Appeals: An Empirical Exploration of Panel Effects, Professor Pauline Kim reports an empirical test of two competing explanations of panel effects—one emphasizing deliberation internal to a circuit panel, the other hypothesizing strategic behavior on the part of circuit judges. The latter explanation posits that court of appeals judges act strategically in light of the expected actions of others and that, therefore, panel effects should depend upon how the preferences of the Supreme Court or the circuit en banc are aligned relative to those of the panel members. Analyzing votes in Title VII sex discrimination cases, she finds no support for the theory that panel effects are caused by strategic behavior aimed at inducing or avoiding Supreme Court review. On the other hand, the findings strongly suggest that panel effects are influenced by circuit preferences. Both minority and majority judges on ideologically mixed panels differ in their voting behavior depending upon how the preferences of the circuit as a whole are aligned relative to the panel members. This study provides evidence that panel effects do not result from a dynamic wholly internal to the three judges hearing a case, but are influenced by the environment in the circuit as a whole as well.

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