Bench Memos

Chief Judge Wood Responds

In addition to Judge Easterbrook, Seventh Circuit chief judge Diane Wood has also kindly sent responses to the questions I posed yesterday about Seventh Circuit motions panels. I copy below my questions and, in bold, her answers:

1. How are Seventh Circuit motions panels composed? Do judges take turns as the lead motions judge, with additional judges randomly assigned to join them for matters that call for decision by two or three judges? Or do the chief judge or other senior judges have some special role?

(Section 1(b) of the Seventh Circuit’s internal operating procedures says, “The responsibility to handle motions shall be rotated among the judges.” That proposition apparently applies to motions handled by single judges. Whether it also applies to motions handled by two judges or three judges is unclear. Section 1 also spells out which motions should be handled by more than one judge.)

Chief Judge Wood: Motions panels are set for each six-month period. A motions judge is set for each week, and Judge 2 and Judge 3 for the panel are also specified. The motions judge rules on all one-judge motions, and the panel handles three-judge motions. For the next week, Judge 2 moves up to the Motions judge slot, Judge 3 is in the next position, and a new Judge 4 fills out the panel. If one judge is disqualified, then the motions staff contacts the next judge in the rotation.

2. Under Seventh Circuit policy or practice, who on a motions panel decides whether to recommend that a particular matter be assigned to the motions panel for a decision on the merits? Is that effectively the decision of the senior judge on the panel? Or does it require a majority or unanimous vote of the panel members?

(Section 6(d) of the Seventh Circuit’s internal operating procedures provides: “When a motion panel decides that a motion or petition should be set for oral argument or the appeal expedited, it may recommend to the chief judge that the matter be assigned for argument and decision to the same panel.”)

Chief Judge Wood: The panel decides as a whole whether to keep the case.

3. Under Seventh Circuit policy or practice, does the chief judge ever disapprove a motions panel’s recommendation that a matter be assigned to that panel for a decision on the merits?

Chief Judge Wood: No, as far as I can recall.

4. Are there any recognized standards under Seventh Circuit policy or practice that govern a motions panel’s decision whether to recommend that a matter be assigned to that panel for a decision on the merits?

Chief Judge Wood: The judges will consider such factors as the amount of time the panel members have already invested in the matter, the similarity of the issues involved in the motion with the issue involved in the merits decision, and the need to schedule a prompt hearing. 

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