Trying to predict the author of any given Supreme Court opinion is often a fool’s errand.  The pattern by which Justices are assigned opinions isn’t entirely fixed.  And the original author can lose the majority to some other member of the Court.

That said, across an entire Term, the Chief Justice — who does most of the opinion assignments, because he generally is in the majority — does attempt to distribute the workload evenly.  If that pattern holds this Term as well, then one feature of the remaining cases is noteworthy.

Based on Kedar’s statistics page we would expect that of the nineteen remaining opinions, between fifteen and seventeen would be written by the Court’s more conservative Justices, while the more liberal Justices would author two to four.  Also, several of the longest-outstanding cases — which generally we would expect to be the most divisive — seem among the most likely to be authored by more conservatives Justices.

That prediction should not be overread.  Most cases at the Supreme Court do not divide along ideological lines.  And the fact that, for example, a conservative Justice authors a given opinion does not guarantee a conservative outcome.  So this isn’t information that predicts the outcome of any given case.  Examples include the health care decision last Term (authored by the Chief Justice), Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in the arrestee-DNA testing case (favoring the defendant), and potentially one or more same-sex marriage decisions this Term (potentially authored by Justice Kennedy and favoring the challengers).

But with all those important caveats, many cases that make it all the way to the end of the Term are ideologically divided.  And based on the distribution of opinions, it seems quite likely that a lot of the decisions remaining for this Term will go in the conservative direction.

Posted in Everything Else

Recommended Citation: Tom Goldstein, A note about opinion distribution, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 13, 2013, 12:59 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/a-note-about-opinion-distribution/