9th Circuit Court Is Overturned 80% of the Time

Alex Jones has a vested interest in attacking the 9th Circuit Court, as he views them as being responsible for stopping Donald Trump's initial travel ban in early 2017. He views them as out of control, liberal activist judges, and his evidence of this is that their decisions are overturned 80% of the time.

In this instance, Alex's statistic is not too far off, the problem is that citing the statistic without context is dishonest.

How our court system works is that when you go to court and lose, you can appeal the decision. The case then goes to one of the 50 State Courts, or one of the 13 Circuit Courts (also known as Federal Appeals Courts). If you present your case in one of these venues and lose, you can then appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is pretty busy, and they simply don't have the time to hear cases where they are unlikely to reverse the decision. Here's the thing: the end result of them upholding an Appeals Court decision, and that of them just not choosing to hear the case are identical; the Appeals Court decision stands.

According to statistics, the 9th Circuit was overturned in approximately 79% of the cases of theirs that the Supreme Court heard in between 2010 and 2015. This is compared to the average of all the Appeals Courts for that same time period: 70%

During the same time period, the 6th Circuit was overturned 87% of the time and the 11th Circuit 85% of the time. The least overturned court was the 10th Circuit with 42%.

One of the difficulties in Alex presenting this statistic as proof of anything is that the 9th Circuit Court is by far the busiest Appeals Court in the country. In 2014-2015, they heard 12,288 cases, a full 4,522 more than the next busiest court. This is largely because of the 9th Circuit having jurisdiction over California, by far the most populous state in the country.

The reason that this matters is that, for example, in 2015, the 9th Circuit was overturned 10 times by the Supreme Court. This is out of 16 cases from the 9th Circuit appealed to the SC. 10 out of 16 looks like a rough number, but in reality, that's 10 decisions overturned out of the 12,288 that the 9th Circuit heard that year, which is a much smaller number in that context.

If you want to cherry-pick statistics and take them out of context, you could just say that in 2013, the 1st, 6th, 8th, and 11th Circuit Courts were all overturned 100% of the time. (In context, each had 2 or fewer cases that got appealed to the SC).

Or, even better, in 2010, every single case brought to the Supreme Court through State Appeals Courts was overturned. This, of course, means that every single state court has been infested with out-of-control, liberal activist judges (Spoiler alert: in 2011, the state courts' decisions were only overturned 64% of the time). I just wanted to be sure I debunked my own fake claim before Alex tried to run with it).

The point here is that when you hear a statistic, it is incredibly important to know what the context of that statistic is. It's even more important to know and explain the context when you are using statistics to make arguments, because if you don't, you are lying.