Once a Century: Time for a Structural Overhaul of the Federal Courts substantially improves understanding of the federal judicial system. Professor Martha Dragich first clearly describes the phenomena which she attributes to unprecedented increases in the number of appeals since the 1960s. The writer asserts that this "crisis of volume" has compromised "appellate justice" and made federal case law less "coherent." Because Professor Dragich finds that appeals courts' dual responsibilities to correct error in specific cases and to declare the law have also decreased justice and coherence, she proposes the creation of District Court Appellate Panels for correcting error and a Unitary Court of Appeals for "making law."
Once a Century significantly enhances comprehension of the judicial process. Professor Dragich affords much instructive information and numerous perceptive insights about which there is widespread agreement. For example, she offers helpful empirical data on the growth of appellate filings; few federal courts experts dispute that this increase has modified the appeals courts particularly by requiring judges to resolve mounting dockets with limited resources. Even Professor Dragich's comparatively provocative ideas require readers to reconsider traditional ways of conceptualizing the courts. For instance, her analysis of appellate lawmaking, her plea for maximum national uniformity in the interpretation of federal law, and her call for a Unitary Court of Appeals suggest that regional circuits could now be outmoded.
Notwithstanding Professor Dragich's valuable contributions, some disagreement and even controversy attend her account. Most important, it remains unclear that justice is as diluted and that case law is as incoherent as she claims and, thus, that they are problematic enough to warrant treatment. This lack of clarity regarding justice, coherence, and many other attributes of modem appeals courts partly explains why there is less consensus about the need to apply numerous measures which might improve them.
All of these ideas mean that Once a Century deserves a response. This essay undertakes that effort. I first briefly describe the article and then evaluate Professor Dragich's critique of the appeals courts, emphasizing her assignment of responsibility for reductions in justice and coherence to the crisis of volume. I next assess Professor Dragich's prescriptions and ascertain that there is insufficient understanding of the courts to support changes which are as profound as she proposes. I, therefore, recommend ways to secure clearer comprehension.
Carl Tobias, Some Cautions about Structural Overhaul of the Federal Courts, 51 U. Miami L. Rev. 389 (1997)