SJ Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


This Article examines the effects of judicial emergencies on the federal district courts. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts declares judicial emergencies when a weighted statistic of filings and vacancy days exceeds certain thresholds. This Article presents evidence on the relationship between emergency status in a judicial circuit and the frequency of pretrial disposition in federal district courts within that circuit: a federal district court is statistically more likely to dismiss a case before trial if its corresponding circuit court is in emergency. This evidence suggests that emergency status may affect normative expectations between the federal district courts and the federal courts of appeals. Federal district courts in circuits under stress appear to increase their “gatekeeping” function by reducing the number of full trials that they hear. The evidence presented in this Article also suggests that the stability of vertical norms between the federal district courts and the federal circuit courts plays an important role in the federal district courts fulfilling their trial-like institutional role.