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New Circuit Justice Assignments:
Samuel Alito's arrival at the Court has led to a slight reshuffling of Circuit Justice duties, announced here. Justice O'Connor used to be the Circuit Justice for the Ninth Circuit. Instead of just giving the Ninth Circuit to Alito (obligatory Henny Youngman joke: "Take the Ninth Circuit — Please!"), the Court reshuffled a bit. Justice Kennedy, a former Ninth Circuit judge, has taken the Ninth Circuit and given up the Eleventh. Justice Thomas, a native of Georgia, has taken the Eleventh Circuit from Kennedy and given up the Eighth. Finally, Justice Alito has been given the Eighth. Seems like a sensible shift.

  Does it matter, you're wondering? Well, not much. The Circuit Justice over a particular circuit is responsible for deciding emergency motions from that Circuit, as well as routine matters like filing date extensions. But anything important is referred to the full Court for a full Court vote. As a practical matter, probably the biggest duty of a Circuit Justice relates to death penalty cases. While the Circuit Justice will always refer a petition for a stay or to grant cert in a capital case to the full Court, that Justice can set the tone of whether a particular case merits the Court's review.

  Thanks to SCOTUSblog for the link.
Mr. T.:
For laymen such as myself who keep forgetting which circuit is which, here's a link.

2.1.2006 12:51pm
Mr. T.:
damn, i was afraid that was going to happen. rather than meput up a string of posts with busted links, just look up "courts of appeals" on wikipedia. or someone who knows what he's doing could post the link
2.1.2006 12:54pm
Nunzio (mail):
I think the Supreme Court Justices should ride circuit like they did in the old days. At least one week a year anyway.
2.1.2006 12:56pm
Roger (mail):
Keep in mind that in the past the Supreme Court justices sat on the Circuit Courts. This seems to still be possible under 28 USC 296, though it would require their later recusal.

And, for the lay people out there, here is a circuit map.
2.1.2006 1:05pm
JRDickens (mail):
Ok,

I am admittedly a legal idion...But there are 11 circuits and only 9 justices. Who gets more than 1?
2.1.2006 1:32pm
nateinky:
Roberts gets the 4th, DC, and Federal circuits; Stevens gets the 6th and 7th; and Souter gets the 1st and 3rd
2.1.2006 1:39pm
Roger (mail):
To be clear, there are 13 Circuits. Likewise, the CAAF is appealed directly to the SCOTUS.
2.1.2006 1:46pm
Rodger Lodger (mail):
"the Circuit Justice will always refer a petition for a stay or to grant cert in a capital case to the full Court"

That may be current practice, but the most notorious stay of execution ever was in the Rosenberg case, granted by Justice Douglas on his own. They don't make 'em like him anymore, and I've never decided whether I'm glad of that.
2.1.2006 2:29pm
shergald (mail) (www):
If it doesn't matter, and that's what I'm hearing, why mention it. Actually, the last comment suggested an important reason, which is disturbing. Justice get to ply their political biases when hearing last minute appeals from condemned felons on deathrow. So, in one circuit you live or at least get time; in the next, you die. Democracy has its interesting aspects, doesn't it?
2.1.2006 2:58pm
DJ (mail):
One more important thing the Circuit Justices do: Go to conferences and meetings in their circuits to make speeches and the like. After years of attending conferences in Atlanta and Florida, Justice Kennedy can now do it Honolulu, Phoenix, and in his hometown of Sacramento. Alito gets, er, Cleveland and Detroit. And he has to get Scalia's coffee. Sucks to be the low man.
2.1.2006 3:49pm
keith_hilzendeger:
No, no -- Alito gets Little Rock and Fargo. It's much worse than you think.
2.1.2006 3:59pm
JonC:
Is there any rhyme or reason to who gets what circuit? It seems to me that there's a rough seniority scheme, with the more senior justices assigned more circuits. But why then, for example, does Souter have two circuits assigned to him when Scalia and Kennedy, who are both senior to Souter, only have one circuit apiece?
2.1.2006 4:04pm
John Lederer (mail):
You missed one other function of the Circuit Justice -- handling nasty little imbroglios in the Circuit that the CCA can't resolve -- like judges unwilling to resign when their mental state becomes questionable, feuds, etc.
2.1.2006 4:04pm
JonC:
I guess maybe it makes sense if you look at circuit population and/or number of appeals. After all, Kennedy with the 9th is dealing with a far larger population/geographic area than Souter with the 1st and 3rd combined.
2.1.2006 4:07pm
Gordo:
Speaking of the 9th Circuit, hopefully we will see Justice O'Connor sitting on an occasional panel in Phoenix. I don't remember the case name, but retired Justice White wrote a 2-1 majority opinion on a 9th Circuit 1st amendment public forum case involving anti-abortion messages on Pheonix buses a few years back. If it doesn't split, the 9th Cicuit could use some help.
2.1.2006 5:15pm
Igglephan:
I think in his capacity as Circuit Justice for the 9th Circuit, William O. Douglas issued an injunciton ordering the end of the Vietnam war, which was in effect for about a day until the rest of the Court overruled him.
2.1.2006 5:29pm
DJ (mail):
Oh dear, it's true. Alito's got the EIGHTH Circuit, not the Sixth. At least the Sixth has bluegrass country. The Eighth has...Duluth.
2.1.2006 5:42pm
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
The Circuit Justice of each circuit is responsible for handling "applications" arising within that circuit -- specific types of matters that, by Court rule or tradition, are addressed by one Justice rather than the Court as a whole. These never determine the final outcome of a case, but can involve various procedural requests along the way, ranging from extensions of time to file cert. petitions (it's much tougher to get an extension from Justice Scalia than anyone else) to injunctions and stays, including stays of execution. In the past, applications for stays of execution were usually dealt with by the Circuit Justice individually (although a denied application could, somewhat surprisingly, be presented to another Justice). More recently, with changes in communications, etc., many applications are referred to the full Court.

Sometimes a Circuit Justice will write a full-fledged opinion, termed an "in-chambers" opinion, addressing one of these applications. Justice Douglas did so, for example, both in the Rosenberg case and in the Vietnam case mentioned above (Holtzman v. Schlesinger). A collection of these opinions was recently assembled by the Deputy Clerk of the Court and published by the Green Bag Press, including many that had not been published before or were hard to find.

The Chief Justice has always had the D.C. and Fourth Circuits, and now the Federal Circuit as well. Other than that, an attempt is generally made to assign Justices to Circuits they have resided or practiced in, although there is usually not a one-to-one correspondence between Circuits and Justices so some assignments are more arbitrary. In the nineteenth century, when the Justices "rode circuit," it was considered mandatory for there to be a Justice from each circuit -- the Court grew in size from its original six Justices as more states joined the Union and hence more Circuits were created.
2.1.2006 6:05pm
nateinky:
Chief Justice Rehnquist, in 1984 while an Associate Justice, sat as a trial judge in VA and then managed to get overruled by the 4th Circuit. Justice Ginsburg mentioned it in her contribution to the Harvard Law Review's tribute to the Chief Justice. Anybody know of any other recent instances where a Justice (I assume as part of their duties as a Circuit Justice) has served as a trial judge?
2.1.2006 6:31pm
Donald (www):
Professor Kerr (or anyone else who knows):

How long do you think it will be before we sit a list of cases to be reargued (because Alito will have to cast a "deciding" vote and wants to hear oral argument)? And what's the precedent for cases that already have 5 justices in favor of a result--will Justice Alito participate in the decision without the benefit of argument?
2.1.2006 7:12pm
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
Since the current federal court structure was established in 1891, I don't believe there has been any other instance (than then-Justice Rehnqust in 1984) in which a Supreme Court Justice presided over a trial. It has been more common for Circuit Justices to serve as members of a Court of Appeals panel (or in a couple of instances, as a member of a 3-judge District Court panel), though even this has become rare recently, except for situations where a newly promoted Justice is completing unfinished business of the Court of Appeals whence he came.
2.1.2006 7:13pm
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
In response to Donald, I don't believe the current circumstances (a Justice retiring and being quickly replaced in the middle of a Term) have occurred before in the modern history of the Court. Therefore, there is no readily available precedent dealing with when a list of the pending cases, if any, in which the Court is split 4-to-4 would be listed for reargument. Logic suggests that any such order would be handed down soon, however, as the Court would presumably want the rearguments to occur this Term. The next regularly scheduled order list is February 21, I believe, with the possibility that some cert. grants would be issued on February 17 (the next conference date), so those might be a reasonable guess as the last dates on which a reargument order would come down.

Based on instances when new Justices have joined the Court in the middle of the Term, Justice Alito definitely would not join the decision of any case argued before he joined the Court. Justice Kennedy joined the Court halfway through the Term, and Justices Souter and Thomas each were confirmed a couple of weeks into the Term, and each "took no part in the consideration or decision of" each case argued before they were sworn in.
2.1.2006 7:36pm