Essays on the Federal Judicial Hierarchy
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Rivero, Albert Harley
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CitationRivero, Albert Harley. 2021. Essays on the Federal Judicial Hierarchy. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation considers the multiple ways that the hierarchical structure of the U.S. federal judiciary constrains (or fails to constrain) judicial behavior. How much are lower court judges constrained by courts above them in the hierarchy and by their own colleagues? Political science research has considered the pressures under which federal judges operate, but has not come to a definitive conclusion about when and why these pressures affect lower court decision-making. The first paper considers whether judges on the Courts of Appeals respond to changes in the ideological compositions of the circuits on which they sit. I show that circuit judges are influenced by other members of their circuit; in fact, circuit and panel ideology are larger predictors of circuit judges' behavior than a judge's own ideology. I argue that this derives from an unusual institutional feature of the circuit courts, where circuit judges sitting on panels are bound by the precedential decisions of other panels. In the second paper, co-authored with Michael Olson, we investigate how changes in the composition of appellate court panels affects district court voting. District court judges face a much greater rate of review than do circuit court judges. We find that district court judges vote more liberally when they face more liberal circuits. Crucially, this is limited to district-years when the rate of appellate review is high; when it is low, district court judges are not affected by circuit ideology, suggesting that it is indeed the hierarchical structure of the federal courts that drives this responsiveness. In the third paper, I consider the relationship between the circuit courts and the Supreme Court by looking at resolved circuit splits. This work suggests that the Supreme Court's ability to constrain lower court behavior is limited by the low rate of review of circuit cases; only when the rate of review increases (after the first case in a circuit split) do we see any congruence between circuit court behavior and Supreme Court behavior.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368238
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