Asked in Law & Legal IssuesUS Supreme Court
Is a decision in one Circuit binding on another Circuit?
July 19, 2010 1:24PM
No. What you're describing is called a "Circuit Split," where two or more US Courts of Appeal disagree on the interpretation of federal or constitutional law. The Ninth Circuit has an addition problem in that the Ninth is so large it typically has two 11-judge panels reviewing different cases at the same time. This can result in what's known as an Intra-Circuit Split.
The Supreme Court's goal is consistent understanding and rulings among the lower courts, so if the Ninth Circuit makes one decision and the Fourth Circuit makes a different decision on a substantially similar matter, the US Supreme Court may review the cases and make a final determination. Whatever interpretation the Supreme Court applies is binding on all the Circuit and District Courts.
For more information, see Related Questions, below.