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University of New Hampshire Law Review

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Here, we take advantage of a unique characteristic of the procedures of the U.S. courts of appeals—the discretion held by chief judges to designate district court judges to three-judge appellate panels— to examine empirically the importance of oversight and judicial hierarchy on judges' behavior in those courts. Specifically, we examine the extent to which decisions about the policy preferences of designated judges vary systematically with the ideological tenor of the chief judge himself, the court as a whole, and the U.S. Supreme Court. More simply put, we ask: are district court judges selected to sit on appeals court panels simply to help ease the workload of the federal courts of appeals, or are the chief judges of the courts of appeals free to take a page from Chief Judge Tuttle’s playbook and use the designation process to select district court judges that share the chief judges’ political preferences? In Part II of this article, we outline in detail the court of appeals designation process. Part III sets forth a series of expectations regarding chief judges’ decisions about the delegation decision. We then examine those expectations empirically, using data on a random sample of court of appeals cases decided between 1925 and 1988. Part IV outlines our data and methods, while Part V discusses our findings and Part VI briefly examines future research questions regarding judicial designation.



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