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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Sneaky Extra Rule You Have to Remember Sometimes When You're Citing the Federal Fifth Circuit

Every part of the United States of America is served by a federal district court, and those-- in turn-- are served by federal circuit courts of appeals. Eleven of them are numbered. Each of those cover a geographical area.

FirstMaine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island.
SecondConnecticut, New York, and Vermont.
ThirdDelaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands.
FourthMaryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
FifthLouisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
SixthKentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
SeventhIllinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
EighthArkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
NinthAlaska, Arizona, California, Territory of Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington.
TenthColorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
EleventhAlabama, Florida, and Georgia.

There are two other I will save for a later post: the District of Columbia Circuit-- I know, it's kind of geographical-- and the Federal Circuit, which is the only geographically general content-specialized federal court of appeal.

So what's the special rule about the Fifth Circuit? It is Rule 10.8.2 of the Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation. On October 1 1981, the Fifth Circuit was divided to create the new, smaller Fifth Circuit and an Eleventh Circuit.


  1. Cite decisions rendered in 1981 and labeled "5th Cir." by month.
  2. Give unit information whenever possible (it seems the court began the transition by having a Fifth Circuit Unit A and a Fifth Circuit Unit B.
  3. Designate as "Former 5th" any nonunit judgment labeled as a Former Fifth judgment and rendered after September 30, 1981.
Knowing this rule separates the appellate children from the appellate grown-ups. Although the other circuits have had coverage changes, this separation is the only one the Bluebook cares about.

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