How Truly Appealing
Much of my scholarly work relates to the workings and decisionmaking processes of the federal courts of appeals. Generally speaking, a party that loses in federal district court (the trial-level court) has the right to appeal to the federal court of appeals, and the appellate court has to resolve the appeal. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, gets to pick and choose the cases it wants to hear and the issues it wants to resolve. As a result, the federal appellate courts, rather than the Supreme Court, are where most of the real legal action is: the federal courts of appeals decided 28,840 appeals on the merits during the twelve months ending September 30, 2001, while during the same period the Supreme Court issued full or per curiam decisions in 87 cases (these statistics, and many more, may be found in a series of tables in the library section of the U.S. Courts website). To be sure, many of the cases that the courts of appeals decide are routine and uninteresting, but the vast majority of legal development at the federal level, including development of the most important issues of the day, occurs at the appellate level. Yet most non-lawyers have little sense of what the appellate courts are, what they do, and how they work.
I was surprised and pleased, then, to discover Howard Bashman's blog of appellate litigation, How Appealing. I've mentioned and linked to his site before, but it bears repeating: Howard's site is a tremendous resource for lawyers and non-lawyers alike about the most significant developments in the courts of appeals.
Howard's coverage of the Ninth Circuit's Pledge of Allegiance decision has been superb: in the past two days, Howard has explained, thoroughly and in clear, accessible language, how the case came to be assigned to the three judges who decided it and how the Ninth Circuit will (probably) go about rehearing the case en banc, taking into account the ways in which the practices of the Ninth Circuit (the largest circuit both geographically and in terms of the number of judges) differ from those of other circuits. This is enormously valuable information for the non-lawyer who wants to understand the case, and information that the mainstream media fail to provide. And the details that he provides will be of interest to lawyers as well.
Howard's coverage is remarkably comprehensive without being overwhelming. Today, for example, he noted a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee (actually the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property) on the appellate courts' use of unpublished and non-precedential opinions. This is a subject of deep interest to me, one about which I've written several articles, and I learned about the hearing on Howard's site. And while I don't always agree with Howard's case analysis, his arguments are always well-reasoned and well-presented. I don't exaggerate when I say that How Appealing is a tremendous resource. It is an astonishing piece of work.