March 14, 2018 Articles

The Role of the D.C. Circuit in Administrative Law

The particular expertise of the court is an important consideration in how cases are briefed there.

By David M. Cooper

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is unique both in composition and caseload. Unlike almost all of the other federal appeals courts, the judges on the D.C. Circuit are chosen from beyond the boundaries of the circuit itself. The D.C. Circuit’s caseload is also unlike other circuits’. Approximately two-thirds of D.C. Circuit cases involve the federal government in some civil capacity, compared with less than 25 percent in circuits nationwide. See John G. Roberts Jr., “What Makes the D.C. Circuit Different? A Historical View,” 92 Va. L. Rev. 375, 377 (2006). And most important for purposes of this article, one-third of D.C. Circuit appeals are from agency decisions, compared with less than 20 percent for appeals courts nationwide. Id. at 376–77.

The particular nature of the D.C. Circuit has important implications for how that court functions and how lawyers should litigate administrative-law cases there.

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