March 25, 2021 - Federal Circuit Insights

When Do Federal Circuit Judges Sit?

A couple weeks ago we wrote about how often Federal Circuit judges sit in a given year (see How Often Do Federal Circuit Judges Sit?). Spoiler: they sit a lot. In that post, though, we looked at the data for each judge totaled across an entire calendar year. Today, we take a look at the data on a monthly basis. 

Just as a reminder, we’re looking at panel days for oral arguments, excluding panels convened to hear just one case (sometimes called plus panels). Those one-case panels might happen for arguments on a motion or when a case comes back after a remand. Unlike last time, though, we’re looking at the total panel days sat in a given month across all judges (active and senior). So, a typical panel sitting would add three to a month’s total (one unit for each judge).

Here’s what our data looks like broken out by month:

A couple of points jump out from this. First, although the Federal Circuit sits year round instead of recessing for the summer like its neighbor the D.C. Circuit, the total sittings in a month definitely drops in the summer, especially in August (when D.C. is notoriously empty).

Second, the Court never really slowed down in 2020 despite the pandemic. Even in the early months of March and April, the Court continued to keep cases moving through to submission at roughly the same pace as prior years. The data above of course doesn’t separate out how many cases within a sitting were removed from the oral argument calendar and decided on the papers. But still, the Court’s ability to keep such a steady pace is a testament to the commitment of the judges, clerks, and court staff.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the above data is aggregated across all judges. Thus, although the number of sittings seems to be relatively similar across the non-summer months, that may not be true for any given judge. To reach the average 35 sitting days per year that we saw last time (here), some judges may sit four or five days in several months and then none in others, while other judges keep a more uniform rate of roughly three sittings each month of the year. All of which is just another reminder that you can never really be sure in advance who you’re going to see (or hear) on argument morning.