Nguyen v. United States, 539 U.S. 69, 13 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 69 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

ation of their appeals, no matter how distinguished and well qualified the judge might be, such a stipulation would not have cured the plain defect in the composition of the panel.12

See William Cramp & Sons, 228 U. S., at 650.

More fundamentally, our enforcement of 292(a)'s outer bounds is not driven so much by concern for the validity of petitioners' convictions at trial but for the validity of the composition of the Court of Appeals. As a general rule, federal courts may not use their supervisory powers to circumvent the obligation to assess trial errors for their prejudicial effect. See Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States, 487 U. S. 250, 254-255 (1988). Because the error in these cases involves a violation of a statutory provision that "embodies a strong policy concerning the proper administration of judicial business," however, our exercise of supervisory power is not inconsistent with that general rule.13 Glidden, 370 U. S., at 536 (plurality opinion). Thus, we invalidated the judgment of a Court of Appeals without assessing prejudice, even though urged to do so, when the error alleged was the improper composition of that court. See United States v. American-Foreign S. S. Corp., 363 U. S. 685, 690-691 (1960) (vacating judgment of en banc Court of Appeals because participation by Senior Circuit Judge was not provided by statute).

12 We agree with the Government's submission that the improper composition of the court below was "an isolated, one-time mistake." Brief for United States 5. Countervailing concerns for gamesmanship, which animate the requirement for contemporaneous objection, therefore dissipate in these cases in light of the rarity of the improper panel assignment at issue.

13 "The authority which Congress has granted this Court to review judgments of the courts of appeals undoubtedly vests us not only with the authority to correct errors of substantive law, but to prescribe the method by which those courts go about deciding the cases before them." Lehman Brothers v. Schein, 416 U. S. 386, 393 (1974) (Rehnquist, J., concurring).


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