TitleInter-Court Dynamics and the Development of Legal Policy: Citation Patterns in the Decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsSolberg, R, Haire, SB, Emrey, JA
JournalThe Policy Studies Journal
Pagination277 - 293
Date Published2006
ISBN Number0190-292X

Lower federal appellate judges, like other government officials, identify problems, formulate and implement solutions, and subsequently evaluate them for their efficacy. Immediately following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, courts were confronted with cases that raised new policy issues in claims of employment discrimination. With no guidance from the Supreme Court for five years, circuit courts articulated solutions to these issues with written published opinions. By examining citations to precedents in those opinions, we evaluate the degree to which the court’s reasoning draws on policies from other circuits. Although stare decisis does not compel appeals court judges to consider decisions from other circuits, 76 percent of the opinions include a reference to an out-of-circuit precedent. Outside citations were not uniform across circuits and cases with increased references to outside courts in circuits were characterized by conflict. Our examination of citation patterns suggests that the development of precedent proceeds on two tracks. On one level, circuit judges’ opinions build on precedent from within their court. More broadly, citations reflect on an inter-court dialog to identify conflict and consensus in federal legal policy.