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C. Alan Joyce

Data on US District Courts Gives Inside View of Justice System

March 29, 2012 —
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We’re constantly expanding Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base in small ways. Sometimes we know from the start that a new feature is going to be “blog-worthy,” like pro football stats or live aircraft-tracking data. Lots of other additions are useful, but don’t seem worth crowing about too loudly. We recently added some data on each of the 94 district courts of the US federal court system, and I confess that it seemed like a project in the latter category—but it turned out to reveal some genuinely fascinating bits of information about the justice system in this country.

Most people probably don’t have a natural sense of the jurisdiction of each court—or even how many there are in their state—but an input like “California courts” will give you a summary of key stats about all the district courts in a given state, including a list of the largest cities in each of them. From there, you can click a specific court to see a map of that court’s jurisdiction and detailed information about overall caseloads and judgeships, as well as annual filings for a variety of civil and criminal case types.

California Central District Court

But you might want to start exploring the data from the top down, with a query like “How many cases were filed in US district courts last year?”. The plot of total case filings over time shows a shocking (to me) spike since 2007, climbing from under 320,000 cases to nearly 380,000 per year in 2011. The distribution plot and ranked list, however, show that one district stands in a class by itself. So click Pennsylvania’s Eastern Court and you’ll see that this one court accounts for the lion’s share of that national increase—and also that the overall caseload is surprisingly weighted towards civil cases. So click the “More” button in the Civil cases pod and you’ll see that tort cases alone accounted for almost 85% of all cases in this court.

Pennsylvania Eastern District Court

If you want to focus on more regional trends, you could try an input like “How many fraud cases in district courts in the third circuit?” or even focus on just one state. Asking Wolfram|Alpha about immigration cases in Texas district courts, for example, reveals a dramatic difference between the northeastern and southwestern parts of the state: in the latter, immigration cases represented 30-40% of all cases filed in 2011, more than three times the yearly rate of ten years ago. There’s a similar trend in Arizona—with a comparably striking increase in caseloads per judgeship.

Number of cases filed per judgeship in Arizona District Court

There’s a ton of data here to explore, with detailed time series data that dates back to the late 1990s for nearly two dozen types of civil and criminal cases. I keep stumbling across interesting trends in and contrasts between different courts, and I’m interested to see what other people find in this dataset. There’s more we plan to build on here, including statistics on bankruptcy and other cases in appellate courts. What else do you want to see?


Yay! Looking forward to seeing more legal data on WolframAlpha

Posted by Seth Chandler March 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I want to see court decisions, both federal and administrative (e.g., immigration BIA/AAO decisions would be great), and ability to correlate that data against other factors.

For example, what can I learn from: “patent lawsuits filed against Apple over time versus company stock price” or “patent lawsuits decided against/for Company over time versus company stock price”

Or, what can I learn from, “immigration cases concerning entry without inspection decision statistics”.

Fabulous stuff!

Posted by Jay March 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Mr. Joyce:

Thank you for this information. Where do these data come from?

Posted by Robert Richards April 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

This is very useful information; kudos and ??.

Posted by bernard April 9, 2012 at 11:58 am