Title page for ETD etd-07072010-020202

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Furr, Stephen Ray
URN etd-07072010-020202
Title Functional decentralization in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Degree Master of Arts
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Herndon, James F. Committee Chair
Lacy, Donald P. Committee Member
Shingles, Richard P. Committee Member
  • United States
Date of Defense 1974-06-05
Availability restricted

The aim of this study was to apply the hypothesis of functional decentralization to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for the years 1968-1970. It was expected that there would exist a number of smaller specialized sub-courts handling particular issue areas. While a number of statistically significant individual patterns were found, and three specialized sub-courts were identified, these findings cannot be interpreted as substantively significant. The anticipated pattern was that a large percentage of the issue areas would emerge as specialized. The specialized sub-court found in the Libel issue area is negated by the fact that the issue area had only seven cases. In terms of the overall pattern of behavior of the court the two specialized sub-courts remaining cannot be interpreted as having any substantive significance.

That the anticipated patterns of behavior were not found may have two explanations. The first is that the seating patterns discerned occurred solely through chance. Thus, for the period 1968-1970, assignment of judges to appellate panels in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was done on a completely random basis.

The second possible explanation is that there exists a fault in the research design which led to inability to reject the null hypothesis. There are several areas of potential error. The first lies in the typing of cases. Inevitably, unless the researcher is skilled in the principles of law and has sufficient time to study every case before typing, some forcing of cases into inappropriate case types will occur. Future researchers employing this technique will have to decide for themselves how much forcing is acceptable.

In this research, approximately five per cent of the cases were forced. When spread over twenty-four primary case types, this five per cent may not have had any significant effect, but the potential for error cannot be discounted nor is it possible to assume that the forced cases were distributed evenly through the range of case types.

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