What are the causes and consequences of legal development? In recent years courts scholars have begun to address these broad and challenging questions, yet there is still much work to be done. The intermediate level of the federal court system (a.k.a., circuit courts) provide an institutional context replete with opportunities to extend our theoretical and empirical understanding of legal development. My dissertation takes advantage of these opportunities in three ways. First, I explore legal constraint by comparing citation to and treatment of circuit court precedents. A precedent is binding in its own circuit, but merely persuasive in other circuits. Consequently, if law constrains judges the effect of ideology on how a precedent is treated should be significantly less when it is considered in its own circuit than when considered by a sister circuit. Second, I will investigate the nuances of a circuit's citation to its own binding precedent to determine how it is influenced by strategic anticipation of whether a case will be reviewed and overturned by the entire circuit. Third, I examine the impact of circuit courts on state policy diffusion, positing that both adoption and content of a policy will be more influenced by previous policy adoptions and circuit court litigation from states in the same circuit than by those from a different circuit.
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