Last week, we explored the potential impact of visiting judges on Sixth Circuit precedent. In this post, we will take a quick look at who the visiting judges are. The answer is that visiting judges are overwhelmingly from the nine federal districts courts encompassed by the Sixth Circuit. Over the past two years, fifty-four visiting judges participated in panels at the Sixth Circuit and all but eight were district court judges from within the Sixth Circuit.
This prevalence of local judges is common in most circuits. The Judicial Conference Committee on Intercircuit Assignments has noted that intracircuit assignments are more common because judges from within the circuit will be more knowledgeable about that circuit’s law and will have a more manageable distance to travel to visit the court. The high use of intracircuit judges is in keeping with our earlier conclusion that the Sixth Circuit’s high percentage of visiting judges probably does not significantly impact its precedent because the visiting judges will already be accustomed to applying Sixth Circuit law.
Judges from some districts visit far more often than those from others. Two-thirds of the judges from the districts of Western Michigan and Western Tennessee sat on Sixth Circuit panels, while very few judges from Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee participated as visiting judges. We also found that busier districts tended to supply fewer visiting judges. For example, the districts of Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, which supplied just two visiting judges between them, had among the highest number of case filings per active judge.
Surprisingly, senior district court judges not much more likely to be visiting judges than active district court judges. Roughly 49% of active district judges and 55% of senior district judges visited the Sixth Circuit at some point in the past two years.