The internal workings of courts are largely a black box, even to those of us who often appear before them. Briefs, evidence, precedent, and oral argument go in, and decisions come out. What happens between the input and the output is generally unknown. From time to time, a judge will reveal some tidbit of how his court works. Otherwise, except for the broad strokes that some courts publish about their internal operating procedures, we are left to guess about what is going on behind the scenes, based on imperfect information. Despite knowing little about what is going on, we are often quick to offer our views what must be going on, when the court will rule, which judge on a panel is likely to write the opinion, or even how the court will decide. No matter how good we are, our educated guesses are just that. Courts rule when they are ready to rule, and reach the decisions they do—after deliberations behind the scenes—for reasons that we cannot identify with certainty.

7th Circuit SpotlightOne view of what happens behind the scenes is that individual chambers operate as independent law offices, each drafting and circulating opinions without paying much attention to what is going on in other chambers or in other courts. Maybe our careers of meeting deadlines and representing clients leads us to assume that judges, free from these constraints, are also free to do whatever they want. While this may be right in some regards, a recent flurry of decisions in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reveals that courts may follow a particular percolating issue, coordinate their decisions, and release opinions to address recurring issues or to clarify the law of the circuit.

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