Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The View from the Bench and Chambers

The View from the Bench and Chambers: Examining Judicial Process and Decision Making on the U.S. Courts of Appeals

Jennifer Barnes Bowie
Donald R. Songer
John Szmer
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qhb15
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The View from the Bench and Chambers
    Book Description:

    For most of their history, the U.S. courts of appeals have toiled in obscurity, well out of the limelight of political controversy. But as the number of appeals has increased dramatically, while the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court has remained the same, the courts of appeals have become the court of last resort for the vast majority of litigants. This enhanced status has been recognized by important political actors, and as a result, appointments to the courts of appeals have become more and more contentious since the 1990s. This combination of increasing political salience and increasing political controversy has led to the rise of serious empirical studies of the role of the courts of appeals in our legal and political system.

    At once building on and contributing to this wave of scholarship,The View from the Bench and Chambersmelds a series of quantitative analyses of judicial decisions with the perspectives gained from in-depth interviews with the judges and their law clerks. This multifaceted approach yields a level of insight beyond that provided by any previous work on appellate courts in the United States, makingThe View from the Bench and Chambersthe most comprehensive and rich account of the operation of these courts to date.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3600-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Courts of Appeals in the U.S. Legal System
    (pp. 1-10)

    For much of their history, the U.S. courts of appeals have toiled in obscurity, well out of the limelight of political controversy. But as the number of appeals has increased dramatically in recent decades, while the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court has remained the same, the courts of appeals have increasingly become in practice the courts of last resort for the vast majority of litigants. This enhanced status has been recognized by important political actors, and as a result, appointments to the courts of appeals have become increasingly controversial since the 1990s (Binder and Maltzman 2009). This...

  5. ONE The Judges and Cases
    (pp. 11-29)

    Most scholarship pertaining to the courts of appeals is limited to attempts to explain the ultimate decisions of the courts. Much less is known about the processes used by the courts to reach those decisions. This book fills in many of the gaps concerning how the courts of appeals operate on a-day-to day basis, drawing heavily on an extensive set of interviews we conducted with judges from every circuit. Before taking up the details of the way the courts operate, this chapter first turns a spotlight on the central actors on the courts of appeals, the judges. Appellate court judges’...

  6. TWO The Preliminaries: Setting the Agenda, Oral Argument, and Assigning the Opinion of the Court
    (pp. 30-86)

    Much happens before the announcement of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision. The existing scholarship, however, virtually ignores these procedures. Although significant research attention has been devoted to the U.S. courts of appeals (e.g., Cohen 2002; Cross 2007; Hettinger, Lindquist, and Martinek 2006; Howard 1981; Klein 2002; Songer, Sheehan, and Haire 2000), by and large, most of that attention has focused primarily on either judicial selection (e.g., Binder and Maltzman 2009; Goldman 1997; Steigerwalt 2010) or case outcomes in decisions (e.g., Hettinger, Lindquist, and Martinek 2004, 2006; Songer and Sheehan 1992). The process leading up to the outcomes, however, has...

  7. THREE Decision Making and Writing the Opinion of the Court
    (pp. 87-131)

    This chapter describes the process of decision making, particularly the important process of arriving at the opinion of the court. In contrast to the extensive literature on the patterns of votes of judges on U.S. appellate courts, much less is known about the process of arriving at the final decision of the appellate court.

    We describe, from the judge’s viewpoint, what happens after a tentative decision has been reached in the private conference proceedings. We also explain how judges use clerks to aid both preparation and opinion writing, and how the judges interact with each other on an informal basis....

  8. FOUR Separate Opinion Writing on the Courts of Appeals
    (pp. 132-154)

    It has been said repeatedly within the legal culture that unanimity is to be preferred to dissent. This view of dissent was also expressed by the judges we interviewed and seems to fit what one Canadian scholar has called the “ ‘American model,’ where unanimity is desirable but not required and where judges can, at their discretion, either sign on to the reasons of a colleague or write their own” (McCormick 2003, 90). Unanimity is thought by many judges to enhance the legitimacy of the appellate courts. As an example, Goldman and Lamb (1986) have written that unanimity “reinforces the...

  9. FIVE Explaining Attitudinal and Legal Influences on Decisions
    (pp. 155-177)

    Since at least the Clinton administration, there has been steadily increasing conflict in the U.S. Senate over the confirmation of nominations for service on the courts of appeals (Binder and Maltzman 2009). With the increasing polarization of politics in the United States, the courts, including the intermediate appellate courts, have increasingly been seen by partisans in Congress as important players in the game of national politics. The core belief among politicians behind the growing controversy is that the political values of judges are strongly related to the way they decide cases and thus influence national policy. Judicial scholars agree. For...

  10. SIX Strategic Accounts of Decision Making
    (pp. 178-227)

    Strategic accounts of appellate court decision making, like attitudinal accounts, usually posit that judges have a goal of making good public policy that is consistent with their own personal political preferences (Cross and Tiller 1998; Epstein and Knight 1998, 2000; McNollgast 1995). But in contrast to attitudinal models, which hold that judges vote sincerely to support the case outcomes they most prefer, the strategic account holds that judges who vote strategically take into account the potential actions of other actors and may modify their behavior in response to the probable reactions of others (Baum 1997). The institutional setting of the...

  11. SEVEN The Congruence of Social Science and the Perceptions of the Judges
    (pp. 228-236)

    We began this research with the idea of providing a comprehensive overview of the way in which the modern courts of appeals go about their business. In particular, we focused on the extent to which the perspectives of the judges are congruent with the picture painted in mainstream analyses of the courts by empirical social scientists. But before venturing too far into a description of how the courts operate, we sought to craft a description of the main actors who are the central focus throughout this book, the judges. Although courts of appeals judges are among the most powerful political...

  12. TECHNICAL APPENDIX: DATA AND METHODS
    (pp. 237-248)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 249-260)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-274)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 275-284)