The legal term en banc refers to the hearing of a case by the entire bench, or all of the judges of a court, rather than a panel of a selected few judges. En banc sessions are usually reserved for cases of great importance, or to review a contested decision of a panel of judges on a matter of particular public importance. To explore this concept, consider the following en banc definition.
Definition of En Banc
Pronounced än-bänk (like “on bonk”)
Adjective or Adverb
- As a full court.
- With all the judges of a court present.
1250-1300 Old French in the bench
What is En Banc
In the United States, appeals and supreme courts are burdened with heavy caseloads. The courts generally maintain a staff of a certain number of judges (referred to as a “bench”), from which a group, or “panel,” is assigned to hear each case. Panels of judges in appeals and supreme court hearings usually comprise three to four judges. Some matters, however, are considered of such importance to the general public, or of such complexity, that the entire bench of judges hears the case. The U.S. Supreme Court hears every case en banc.
Deciding to Hold an En Banc Hearing
While a party to an appeal may request their matter be heard en banc, it has no right to it. The court in which the matter is to be heard decides which cases it will hear en banc, based on the subject matter, and matter of law that is to be decided. If a court decides to hear a case, or a specific matter related to the case, en banc, it assumes jurisdiction over the entire case. This practice is used to ensure uniformity in decisions.
In the event a party to an appeal heard by a select panel of Supreme Court judges disagrees with the decision, it can ask that the decision be reviewed by the Court en banc. No panel of judges may overrule the decision of another panel. In general, en banc hearings, or re-hearings, are not favored, being reserved for situations in which:
- en banc consideration is required to maintain uniformity in the court’s decisions;
- The case involves an issue of exceptional significance.
Requesting an En Banc Hearing
Any party requesting an en banc hearing or re-hearing of their case must petition the appeals or supreme court in a specific format, following certain rules. According to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, a petition for hearing en banc must begin with a statement that either:
- The decision by the appellate panel of judges conflicts with a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, or of the court in which the Petition is filed. The statement must include citations to the conflicting case.
- The case involves at one or more questions of exceptional importance, each of which must be succinctly stated.