In an article published in the Stanford Law Review entitled “Measuring the Effects of Specialization with Circuit Split Resolution,” Eric Hansford describes how he identifies circuit splits using Westlaw’s SCT database:
To find the circuit splits, I used the SCT database on Westlaw. After much trial and error, I settled on the search: <(division divide! conflict! split inconsis- tent differ! disagree! uncertain!) /p (“courts of appeals” circuits lower)>. The search reflects every formulation I could find that the Court uses to announce a resolution of a circuit split. I did not, however, read every page of the United States Reports; the search probably omitted some resolutions.
I included instances when the Court identifies the existence of a circuit split and points to another case that lays out the split but does not itself name the cases. In these instances the Court still acknowledges a split.
Eric Hansford, Measuring the Effects of Specialization with Circuit Split Resolution, 63 Stan. L. Rev. 1145, 1175 (2011) (click here).
To find circuit splits on LexisNexis, I combined the U.S. Courts of Appeals Cases and U.S. District Court Cases sources. I then performed a search using the following terms and connectors: "circuit w/2 split! and date geq (10/29/2011)" (note that there's no need use quotation marks on these terms and connectors when you actually run the search). This limited my search to cases that have mentioned the word “circuit” within two words of the word “split” or some derivation of the word "split" (e.g., splits) within the past month. This search produced twenty-seven results.
Finally, you can also use Google Scholar to identify circuit splits, which, I must say, performs quite well for its price (free). First go to scholar.google.com and then click on the “Advanced Scholar Search” hyperlink. In the search field that says “Find articles with the exact phrase,” enter the term “circuit split” with quotation marks around the phrase. I also limited the date of my search to cases published in 2011. Finally, make sure to check the option that says “Search opinions of” and use the drop-down box to select “All federal courts.” Then click “Search Scholar.” When I ran this search, I received 342 results.
To narrow my search results to only circuit splits dealing with employment law, I changed the search phrase from “‘circuit split’” to “‘circuit split and ‘employment law.’” This returned only one result: Cannata v. Catholic Diocese of Austin, a case out of the Western District of Texas in which the court notes that the Supreme Court recently granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split over the appropriate test for determining whether an employee of a religious institution qualifies as a “minister” under the ministerial exception doctrine. No. A-10-CA-375 LY, at n.6 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 16, 2011).