Posted by: bridget | 7 December 2006

Musings on the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has taken on 40% fewer cases this term than last, and has issued fewer signed opinions than any year since 1953, despite Justice Roberts’ pledge to increase the Supreme Court caseload.  Possible factors mentioned:

  • the Solicitor General is appealing fewer cases, which usually make up a large part of the docket (10 cases in 2006 v. 24 in previous years);
  • fewer divisions among the appellate courts, so there is little reason for the S. Ct. to take on a case and resolve the split;
  • justices are reluctant to vote to hear cases in which they would not join the majority; and
  • fewer cases have the national policy implications (’70s era civil rights legislation, for example) that they did in prior years.

Reasons 3 and 4 pretty much contradict each other.  The pachyderm does not understand why, if the Solicitor General is winning more at the appellate level, appeals would be reduced.  Obviously, the losing party can appeal as well.  As noted in Above the Law, while amateurs aren’t always welcome at One First Street, there’s never any shortage of people willing to take over a Supreme Court case.

This leaves us only with the rationale that there are fewer divisions among the appellate courts.  Given the sudden drop from last term to this term, such an explanation – if true, there would be a gradual decrease over many years, not a sudden drop – is entirely unsatisfactory.  The pachyderm chalks this one up to the new leadership.


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