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By the Numbers: Civil Rights Cases in OT06

We continue to analyze statistics from the Supreme Court’s recently-concluded term. On Monday, Ben had this post looking at the criminal cases decided by the Court this term, and in this post, I will examine the civil rights docket of October Term 2006.

Of the Court’s 68 signed opinions delivered in OT06, about a quarter of them (16) dealt with issues of civil rights. Many of the most closely watched cases this term were among them, including the cases dealing with partial-birth abortion, campaign finance, employment discrimination, voluntary school integration, student speech, and taxpayer standing to challenge establishment clause violations.

Perhaps what is most notable about the civil rights subset of this term’s docket is that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito found themselves in the majority in every case. When it came to civil rights this term, there is no question that the conservatives carried the day.

The four-member liberal bloc joined them in seven 9-0 (or 8-0) cases, four of which were fully unanimous. But then there were six cases decided by a 5-4 split, with the conservatives prevailing in each. These six cases each drew significant attention from the media and the public, and their topics are the ones listed in the opening paragraph above. Three of the six resulted in splintered plurality and concurring opinions (out of only four plurality opinions in total this term).

Thirteen of the sixteen cases (81%) were decided in a more conservative direction, while two were decided in a more liberal direction. (The Court found itself not to have jurisdiction in Office of Sen. Mark Dayton v. Hanson.) The two cases in which the more liberal argument prevailed were Winkelman v. Parma City School Dist., concerning the rights of parents of disabled children in challenging public education programs, and Jones v. Bock, which dealt with inmates challenging prison conditions. Winkelman was decided 9-0 with two partial dissents, and Jones was fully unanimous.

The dissension rate for the civil rights cases was in line with the overall dissension rate for the term (1.81 dissenting votes per opinion for the civil rights cases; 1.82 overall, a recent high as noted here). Justices Stevens and Ginsburg dissented in half of the cases (8), while Justice Breyer dissented in seven, and Justice Souter dissented in only the six 5-4 cases.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote majority (or plurality) opinions in four civil rights cases, more than any of the other Justices. Justice Scalia wrote 3, and Justice Thomas wrote none.