A little less than a month after the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court on Friday issued a new set of circuit justice assignments, which take effect immediately. Barrett was assigned to the 7th Circuit, where she served as a judge for three years before becoming a justice. Two other justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch, were also assigned for the first time to the circuits where they had previously served as judges – Sotomayor to the 2nd Circuit and Gorsuch to the 10th Circuit.
A circuit justice is primarily responsible for emergency requests (for example, an application to block an execution or to allow it to go forward) from the geographic area covered by his or her circuit, as well as more mundane matters, such as requests to extend filing deadlines. However, justices can and often do refer significant emergency requests to the full court – a role that has taken on increased importance in recent years with the sharp uptick in activity on the court’s “shadow docket.” A map of geographical regions covered by each circuit is available here.
Sotomayor’s move to the 2nd Circuit, which had previously been assigned to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who grew up in New York City and lived there before moving to Washington to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit), kicked off a game of musical circuits among the justices. Sotomayor had previously been responsible for the 10th Circuit, which is now assigned to Gorsuch, as well as the 6th Circuit, which is now assigned to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh, who had previously been assigned to the 7th Circuit, also took on the 8th Circuit, ceding the 7th Circuit to Barrett.
The new circuit assignment list signaled a reprieve for Justice Stephen Breyer, who normally serves as the circuit justice for the relatively small 1st Circuit. Since Ginsburg’s death in September, Breyer has also been pinch-hitting under the Supreme Court’s rules as the circuit justice for the larger and busier 2nd Circuit. Emergency requests and applications for extensions from the 2nd Circuit will now go initially to Sotomayor instead.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.