On the Record

The Daily Record's law news blog

In federal appellate courts, pen is mightier than spoken word

Much like the sacrifice bunt in baseball or the keytar in pop music, the federal appellate court oral argument is slowly fading away.

Of the more than 34,000 appeals decided on merits in the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, approximately 7,000 had oral arguments, or roughly 20 percent, the National Law Journal. That’s down from about 27 percent a decade ago and 40 percent in 1997, when data first became available from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the D.C. Circuit hear the most cases last year, at 55 and 45 percent, respectively. Our own 4th Circuit, by contrast, hears less than 15 percent of cases.

The inefficient use of the court’s time and resources is the reason typically cited for the decline in oral arguments, along with judges saying they won’t affect a case’s outcome.

But supporters say oral argument remains important in the appellate process, if only because it’s the only part the parties get to see. And there is a chance a judge, free of distractions, can focus on the case at hand and maybe gain new insights.

“We’re losing the opportunities to train the next generation of oral advocates,” a lawyer told the NLJ.


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