Thirteen days after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as the Supreme Court’s newest associate justice, the court today issued a new set of circuit justice assignments, which take effect immediately. The new list was the second one in the past few months, replacing the assignment list issued after Justice Anthony Kennedy retired on July 31, leaving the court with only eight justices.
A circuit justice is primarily responsible for emergency requests (for example, an application to block an execution or allow it to go forward) from the geographic area covered by his or her circuit, as well as more mundane matters – for example, a request to extend the time to file a petition for review. However, justices can and often do refer significant emergency requests to the full court, as Justice Neil Gorsuch did earlier this month with a request by Native Americans in North Dakota to block the state from enforcing a law requiring voters to show an ID that includes a residential street address.
Lawyers who practice regularly before the court are often keenly interested in circuit justice assignments because the justices can have different policies on when they will grant extensions to file petitions for review: The late Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, virtually never granted them, while now-retired Justice John Paul Stevens would generally grant not just one but two 30-day extensions as long as they were timely filed.
In August, Chief Justice John Roberts had assumed responsibility for the 9th Circuit, which covers nine states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada and Washington) plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Justice Elena Kagan is now the circuit justice for the 9th Circuit; the 6th and 7th Circuits, for which Kagan had previously been responsible, are now covered by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Brett Kavanaugh, respectively. All of the other circuit-justice assignments remain the same.
The chief justice generally is responsible for three circuits: the District of Columbia Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the 4th Circuit. Some of the other circuit assignments reflect the justices’ links to different parts of the country. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, is responsible for the 2nd Circuit, which includes New York, where she grew up and lived before moving to Washington to become a judge, while Justice Stephen Breyer, who sat on the 1st Circuit before he became a justice, is the circuit justice for that circuit. Justice Samuel Alito, who was born in New Jersey and formerly served as judge on the 3rd Circuit, which includes New Jersey, continues to serve as the circuit justice for the 3rd Circuit (along with the 5th Circuit), while Justice Clarence Thomas, a Georgia native, is the circuit justice for the 11th Circuit, which includes Georgia. Kagan, however, is a native New Yorker who has spent most of her adult life in Chicago, Massachusetts, and Washington.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.