With the release of several opinions this week, the Court has now released 26 opinions for the term. Its time to take a look at some of the numbers:
Opinions released: 26
Cases dismissed: 21
Oldest Case: Vanden v. Discover Bank, argued October 6, 2008 (141 day ago)
Average number of days between arguments and decision: 78.31
Cases dismissed at this point in OT 07: 16
Cases dismissed at this point in OT 06: 17
Per Curiam: 1
Other:1 (US v. Hayes, 7-1)
Individual Justice Tables
Souter has developed a reputation for being a “slow” writer and the statistics from this term largely support that idea. Five out of seven decisions on which he’s written an opinion have taken over 100 days to come down (113, 113, 110, 109, 105, 98, 83). The average number of days between arguments and opinion is currently 78, but that number is likely to rise when more opinions come down but fall a bit by the time the Court adjourns in June because of the April argument dates. In past years, the average has been between 90 and 95 days.
The best way to judge a Justice’s speed in writing might be to look at their unanimous opinions when there are no other opinions. To increase the sample size, I used OT06, OT07, and OT08:
|Roberts||22, 51, 30||28, 84||43|
|Souter||83, 110||55||56, 63||73|
|Thomas||70||56, 145, 85||49, 85||82|
|Ginsburg||47||57, 23, 35||48, 55||44|
|Alito||50, 97||104, 75||63, 120||85|
The distribution of 9-0 unanimous opinions is surprising. Stevens, Scalia, and Kennedy were assigned very few of the “easiest” cases from each term. Justices Thomas and Ginsburg, arguably the most reliable conservative and liberal voters, respectively, were assigned authorship of the greatest number of 9-0 decisions.
This might be indicative of the trend to assign controversial decisions to swing voters or Justices who might be able to command a majority. If that held true, Justice Kennedy would generally be assigned few 9-0 decisions because he was getting more of the 5-4 and 6-3 decisions for each sitting. Justices Stevens and Scalia are often considered the ideological leaders of their respective wings of the Court and they might therefore be more useful in building consensus than in penning the most uncontroversial opinions. Justices Stevens, Scalia, and Kennedy are also the three longest-serving Justices on the Court.
Alternatively, a high number of unanimous 9-0 decisions without separate concurring opinions could hint to the amount of comprise a Justice will allow. There are quite a few opinions with 9-0 judgements and a slew of concurring opinions, but a truly unanimous 9-0 decision might suggest that the author was willing to compromise on minor issues with other Justices. If there were concurring opinions, the author of the majority may have been unwilling to compromise on the scope of the opinion or on technical issues secondary to the main holding of the Court. Justices Stevens and Scalia are the two longest-serving Justices on the Court today, and the fact that they have already written on many of the issues presented to the Court might leave them with less room to compromise on opinions they write today.