The OT07 Docket
With today’s grants from the final January Conference (see post here), the docket for the current term is now nearly set. As Lyle mentions here, it is expected that, although all six of today’s grants have been set on expedited briefing schedules, only two will actually be argued this April and decided this term. We’ll have a full StatPack and docket list when we know which ones will be argued in OT07 and we will update this post with final data, but here are some preliminary numbers. (The numbers below assume the Court keeps to its current plan of arguing 12 cases in April.)
The Court’s Workload. Though the Court added 72 cases to its OT07 docket since last February, three were dismissed before argument. Including one original case argued this term, this means Court will hear a total of 70 oral arguments. Last term, the Court heard argument in 71 cases, the lowest total in the Court’s modern history. It appears OT07 will now set a new mark.
Like last term, the Court’s caseload is more heavily weighted in the spring, though without the April overload, it is not nearly as pronounced as last term. As can be seen from our SCOTUSwiki case index page here, the three argument sessions before the Winter Recess – October, November, and December – had 27 of 34 available argument slots filled, or 79%. On the other hand, the just-completed January sitting was 100% full, with 12 arguments on six days. Only seven cases will be argued in February, but the Court then will hear a full slate of 12 arguments in March and then another full slate of 12 in April. In other words, while 57.5% of the 80 available argument slots occur from January-April, 61.5% of the Court’s cases will actually be heard then. Overall, with 70 oral arguments and 80 available slots, the Court’s docket will be 87.5% full in OT07.
Types of Cases. In terms of what cases the Justices are actually placing on the docket, the recent rise in the proportion of “business” cases the Court is hearing continues to hold true. After business cases were 33% and 31% of the docket in OT04 and OT05 respectively, the proportion rose to 44% in OT06 and currently stands at roughly 46%, depending on what cases granted today are argued in April (it had been threatening to cross the 50% barrier earlier in the term, but recent grants have pushed it slightly downward).
Criminal cases have held basically steady in terms of their percentage of the docket, which this term stands at 34%. That proportion is up very slightly over the last several terms, but it is mostly in line with the average going back to OT98: over the previous 9 terms, criminal cases have averaged 31% of the docket each term. The number of pauper cases granted this term – 12 – is identical to the number granted last term.
Circuit Scorecard. Interestingly, the Court’s case load from the oft-maligned Ninth Circuit is down significantly in OT07. Regardless of which two cases the Court takes from today’s grants, only about 17% of the docket will come from the west coast. This marks the first time since SCOTUSblog started compiling the Circuit Scorecard statistic that it has dipped below 20% of the Court’s docket. To make up for the Ninth’s shortfall, more cases have come from state courts and from the Second Circuit than last term. The Third Circuit was the lone Circuit Court of Appeals that will not have a case taken up by the Supreme Court in OT07.
Opinions So Far. The pace of the Court’s decision-making is on par with what it was last term, which also saw a slow start followed by a deluge of decisions as the term ended. The Court has released 13 opinions to this point, though one was a per curiam dismissal, another a brief per curiam opinion stating that Tom F. had been affirmed by an equally divided vote, and two were summary reversals. Technically, there have been no 5-4 decisions yet, though Tom F. stood at 4-4 with Justice Kennedy recused, and Stoneridge was decided 5-3 (along ideological lines) with Justice Breyer recused. Six of the Court’s 12 non-dismissal opinions have been unanimous or 9-0 votes.
Similarly, after the second week of the January sitting last term, there had been 10 opinions, which included two dismissals and one summary reversal. We compared the pace of the Court’s decision-making last term with that of previous terms in a post here.
With several high profile cases, like the lethal injection challenge and the Voter ID case, argued this January and several more high profile cases set for argument later this spring (the Exxon Valdez case on February 27, the death penalty for child rape case in April, and the highest-profile of them all, the DC Guns case, set to be argued on an unspecified day in March), Court-watchers ought to be gearing up once again for an exciting spring of both oral arguments and decisions. After all, as Tom has noted in this space before, no matter how a term begins, the Justices always dutifully dispose of all of their cases by term’s end – which this year is scheduled for the week of June 23. Stay tuned.