Intercircuit splits occur when two or more circuits on the U.S. Courts of Appeals issue different legal rules about the same legal question. When this happens, federal law is applied differently in different parts of the country. Intercircuit splits are an indicator of legal non-uniformity and an impediment to lawyering and judging, and have real, practical consequences for American law. They are also one of the best known predictors of certiorari. Despite intercircuit splits’ importance, there is almost no quantitative research about them. We created an original dataset—the first of its kind—that includes intercircuit splits that arose between 2005 and 2013. For each intercircuit split, we identified every circuit involved and every case involved. These data reveal that one-third of intercircuit splits are resolved. Two-thirds are not. We show that those that will be resolved are resolved within three years after they arise. Splits are more likely to be resolved when they exhibit contemporaneous and growing disagreement.
Deborah Beim is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science department at Yale University. She studies American politics in general and judicial politics in particular, with a focus on interactions between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals.