Demand and Supply Trends in Federal and State Courts over the Last Half Century

By Posner, Richard A. | Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Demand and Supply Trends in Federal and State Courts over the Last Half Century


Posner, Richard A., Journal of Appellate Practice and Process


I have been interested in judicial administration for many years--since long before I was a judge--and I have been a judge for twenty-four years, all on the Seventh Circuit, and so I have experienced what I shall be talking about. I will offer some reflections based on that experience, but this is primarily a statistical study. I refer you to my book for greater detail on points sketchily covered here. (1) though the book is already somewhat dated.

My discussion is keyed to a series of tables. Table 1 is a time series of cases filed in federal district courts and Table 2 is the same but for filings in state trial courts, this time series being abbreviated because the data are unavailable for the period before 1987. Note in Table 1 the inflection point around 1960 for the federal district courts, which initiates a huge growth that continues to the mid-1980s, with little growth since then. (In contrast, the caseload of the state trial courts has been growing uninterruptedly since the first data point, 1987.) Skipping ahead to Table 5, notice how easily the growth has been accommodated by the addition of federal judges, as a result of which the average caseload per district judge has not increased significantly. District judges and other first-instance judges can be added with little difficulty to absorb increases in caseload because there is no coordination problem; the judges are not a collective rulemaking body like appellate judges.

[TABLES 1-2 & 5 OMITTED]

But this raises a question: Why the vanishing-trials phenomenon depicted in Table 8, that is, the sharp decline in the percentage of cases that are resolved by judgment after trial? That sounds like an adaptation to heavier caseloads, yet caseloads per district judge aren't significantly heavier.

[TABLE 8 OMITTED]

Tables 3 and 4 are parallel to Tables 1 and 2 but their statistics are for federal and state appellate rather than trial courts. Notice the huge increase in the appeal rate (2) in the federal system, mysteriously coupled with an apparent fall in the appeal rate in the state system. A comparison with Table 2 reveals that the increase in the number of state-court appeals has been less than that in the number of cases at the trial-court level. In fact the number of appeals has been decreasing recently; but a limitation of the data, of course, is that they begin only in 1987.

[TABLES 3-4 OMITTED]

The steep increase in the federal appeal rate is a considerable puzzle only slightly explained by the increase in the percentage of prisoner cases (both habeas corpus and civil rights), as shown in Table 7. One possibility is that with more judges there is greater uncertainty about the outcome of an appeal, and uncertainty in outcome is a big factor in generating appeals. Another possibility is the vanishing-trials phenomenon: There is a fuller consideration of the issues at the trial-court level when there is a trial, and that greater consideration should reduce uncertainty about the merits of the parties' claims and therefore about the likely outcome of an appeal. Also, there is greater appellate reluctance to upset a judgment after a trial; the judges tend to feel that the loser had his shot. Knowing this, the loser is less likely to appeal.

[TABLE 7 OMITTED]

Table 6 depicts changes in the federal appellate caseload per judge. Because adding appellate judges to match caseload increase creates problems of increased paperwork, of coordination, and of coherence, it is resisted; and with the increase in the number of appellate judges thus lagging the increase in appellate caseload, one observes the dramatic increase in federal appellate caseloads per judge that is shown in this table.

[TABLE 6 OMITTED]

Yet the federal courts of appeals appear to have accommodated the steep increase in caseload per judge relatively painlessly. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Demand and Supply Trends in Federal and State Courts over the Last Half Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.