I'm just learning how the court system works, and I'm trying to figure out the scope of influence of each appellate court. If a decision is handed down by, for example, the 9th Circuit court, does that decision affect the other 12 circuits, too, or only the region adjudicated by the 9th Circuit?


2 Answers 2


It is binding precedent for lower federal courts in the Ninth Circuit. They are required to follow it.

It is persuasive precedent for the other circuits and for state courts. They may be persuaded by the reasoning and will consider the fact that the Ninth Circuit held as it did to be one factor in their decision-making, but they can make a different decision if they want to.

Some courts are also more persuasive than others, although this is usually not explicitly acknowledged in written opinions. For example, state courts in the Ninth Circuit are likely to give more weight to a Ninth Circuit opinion than they are to give weight to a decision from another circuit. Cases from the Second Circuit are more likely to be persuasive than cases from other circuits, because of its reputation. Cases from the Southern District of New York are more likely to be persuasive than cases from most other non-local District Courts.

There is also a personal reputation function that comes into play when looking at persuasive decisions. Some judges have a better reputation or a better reputation with a particular other judge, and their decisions may be considered more carefully. This is not explicit, but it means a good lawyer will mention the judge's name when a case in support of his position was decided by a well-regarded judge.

Finally, the Ninth Circuit's holding would be persuasive precedent for the Supreme Court. You could write law review articles about this, but to dip one toe in: they may be persuaded by the reasoning and it matters to their function of providing unifying law, so especially during the process of applying for a writ of certiorari, they will care what different circuits have held on an issue and which circuits are going which way. But they are not bound by the circuit courts, and will overturn all of the circuits if they think that's the right decision. They did that a while ago with a statute about what it meant to use a firearm while committing a crime, for example.

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    I'd like to add that technically, a panel of a circuit court must abide by previous precedent of that circuit court, even if it was decided by another panel. Only a hearing en banc may overturn/deviate from previous rulings of that circuit court. Of course the Supreme Court can overturn those as well. scholarship.law.marquette.edu/cgi/…
    – Viktor
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 13:38
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    Great point, Viktor. It's also worth noting that dissents from the denial of certiorari and other dissenting opinions lack binding precedential weight and have very little persuasive weight, and should almost never be cited. They are mostly there to provide a roadmap for either why the leading opinion is wrong or how someone might consider attacking the issue in the future.
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 17:45
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    Well, sometimes dissenting opinions have a great deal of persuasive weight when they are written to try to send up a bat signal to the Supreme Court that the majority has gone off the rails, but that's a bit of a different kind of persuasion. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 8:57
  • Right--they can be useful in cert petitions to SCOTUS, but rarely outside of that.
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 9:55
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    It is also worth noting that the first circuit to decide an issue is especially persuasive because any subsequent court knows that deciding it otherwise will lead to a circuit split eventually to a SCOTUS review resolving the split, and that circuits are also deferred to more heavily when most cases of a particular case arise in that circuit. For example, a SDNY trial court opinion may be persuasive on securities law, but not on water law or oil and gas law where decisions from jurisdictions that have more of those cases originate.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 7:13

Seems this process has it problems. As we know various circuit courts are led by partisan politics. This is wrong but it exists. Judges need to follow written law or constitutional law as written and not develop personal or partisan opinions, else our Judicial System is of no value.

  • This doesn't address the question at all, it's just expressing your opinion on the court system. Please either edit it to address the question asked or remove it.
    – Ryan M
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 0:36

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