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Final Stat Pack for October Term 2013 and key takeaways

[Update July 3, 2014, 9:00 AM: We have updated the Stat Pack to reflect orders and a summary reversal released on Tuesday, July 1. The links below will send you to the new Stat Pack and the takeaways below have been updated to reflect the new information.]

Today we are happy to present the final SCOTUSblog Stat Pack for October Term 2013. Weighing in at sixty-three pages, this is also our most comprehensive Stat Pack released to-date. This year, our Stat Pack includes information about the large number of unanimous opinions, the low number of total opinions authored by the Justices, and the relative dearth of 5-4 decisions. The Stat Pack is updated to reflect all opinions and orders released though today.

You can download the final Stat Pack in its entirety here. Below you can view each section of the Stat Pack individually and review our key takeaways from the Stat Pack.

We would like to thank all of the individuals who provided comments and feedback on the Stat Pack throughout the Term. Our Stat Pack is compiled as a labor of love, and the SCOTUSblog community has been hugely influential in shaping the content and design of our statistics. If you have any further comments, suggestions, or corrections, please do not hesitate to send me an email.

Below you can review our key takeaways from different parts of the Stat Pack:

Opinion Distribution: Majority opinions were distributed fairly evenly during OT13. All Justices had either seven or eight majority opinions, which contrasts with previous Terms like OT11 when one Justice had nine majority opinions, another had six, and most others had seven. See Stat Pack, page 2.

Unanimity: As several media outlets have noted, this year the Justices reached a higher degree of unanimous decisions than they have at any point in recent memory. With today’s decisions, the Court has released forty-eight unanimous merits decisions comprising sixty-six percent of all merits opinions. See Stat Pack, page 5.

Opinion Authorship: Justice Scalia, who is typically one of the most prolific writers on the Court, once again authored more opinions this year than any of his colleagues, twenty-three. Those opinions include eight majority opinions (tied for the most among his colleagues), ten concurring opinions (more than any other Justice), and five dissenting opinions (tied for the most among his colleagues). Justices Kennedy and Kagan are tied for the fewest opinions overall with only ten each. Justice Kennedy authored only one concurring opinion during the Term and Justice Kagan authored none at all. Justice Kennedy authored only one dissenting opinion and Justice Kagan authored only three, including a one-page dissenting opinion that was co-authored with Justice Breyer. See Stat Pack, page 8.

If we look at only opinions that were five pages or longer, there was less disparity among the Justices. Justice Alito had the highest number of opinions under five pages, seven, including all six concurring opinions he authored during the Term and one dissenting opinion. Justice Ginsburg also had a relatively large number of short opinions, six total, including all four concurring opinions she authored during the Term and two of her five dissenting opinions. See Stat Pack, page 8.

Justices typically author an even mix of unanimous and divided opinions. Due to the high number of 9-0 opinions, however, several Justices wrote an unusually large number of unanimous decisions during OT13. All of Justice Sotomayor’s eight majority opinions came in unanimous decisions, as well as five of Chief Justice Roberts’ seven majority opinions and six of Justice Thomas’ seven majority opinions. Only two Justices authored more majority opinions in divided cases than unanimous ones: Justice Kennedy, who authored five majority opinions in divided cases and three in unanimous cases, and Justice Kagan, who authored five majority opinions in divided cases and two in unanimous cases. See Stat Pack, page 17.

Total Opinion Authorship: In part because of the high degree of unanimity, the Justices collectively authored the fewest total opinions during the Roberts Court era. Collectively the Justices authored only 145 total opinions, lower than their tally from last year (169) or the year before (161). In fact, only four years ago the Justices produced a staggering 202 total opinions. The biggest drop off in overall production came in dissenting opinions, which fell from fifty-two during OT12 to only thirty-one during OT13. See Stat Pack, page 9.

Pace of Releasing Opinions: Some justices produced opinions at a consistent pace throughout the Term but others were responsible for decisions that were concentrated at the end of the Term in May and June. Chief Justice Roberts, for example, released three of his seven majority opinions in the third week of June. Similarly, Justice Kagan released four of her seven majority opinions during June and another was handed down in May. Justice Alito, by comparison, released one each in November, December, February, and March, along with two in May and another two on the last day for opinions in June. See Stat Pack, page 11.

Number of Total Slip Pages Released: Justice Scalia, who wrote more total opinions than any of his colleagues, also produced more pages of writing than any of his colleague. He authored 320 total pages, including 134 pages of majority opinions, 125 pages of concurring opinions, and 61 total pages of dissenting opinions. Only Justices Scalia and Sotomayor released more pages in concurring and dissenting opinions than they did in majority opinions. Justice Kennedy, who authored the fewest total opinions, also released the fewest pages of writing than any of his colleagues, 174. Justice Scalia authored nearly twice as many pages. Justice Thomas authored 176 total pages, only two more than Justice Kennedy. See Stat Pack, page 13.

Signed Opinions: The Justices decided fewer cases with a signed opinion during OT13, sixty-seven, than they have at nearly any time during the Roberts Court era and, perhaps, since the Civil War. SCOTUSblog’s Stat Packs, which provide coverage of the Roberts Court era and the late-Rehnquist era, list only one Term since OT95 in which there were fewer signed opinions: OT11, when there were only sixty-five signed opinions. The Supreme Court Compendium, a comprehensive collection of statistics related to the Supreme Court, reports that the last time before the Roberts Court era when there were fewer than sixty-seven signed opinions was during OT1864 when the Court released only fifty-five signed opinions. See Stat Pack, page 15.

Merits Opinions: The Court released fewer total merits opinions during OT13 than it had during any point during the Roberts Court. There were seventy-three merits opinions, including sixty-seven signed merits opinions and six summary reversals. Only twice has the Roberts Court produced fewer merits opinions. During OT06, the Court released seventy-two merits opinions and during OT07 it released only seventy-one. See Stat Pack, page 15.

5-4 Decisions: The Court released fewer 5-4 decisions than it had at any point during the Roberts Court. There were ten 5-4 decisions, comprising fourteen percent of all cases decided. The next lowest tally during the Roberts Court era came in OT05 when the Court released eleven 5-4 decisions. See Stat Pack, page 20.

Justice Kennedy was in the majority for every 5-4 decision from the Term, a feat he has not accomplished since he was in the majority of all twenty-four majority opinions handed down during OT06. Although he typically is not in the majority for every 5-4 decision, he continues his long streak as the Justice most likely to be in the majority. See Stat Pack, page 21.

Assignment of Majority Opinions by the Most Senior Justice in the Majority: In every case, the duty of authoring the majority opinion is assigned by the most senior Justice voting with the majority. Those duties most frequently fall on the Chief Justice, in part because he is always the most senior Justice in a unanimous decision, but six times during OT13 assignment duties fell to one of his colleagues. Justice Scalia was the most senior justice in the majority for three decisions and he assigned one case each to Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy was the most senior Justice in the majority for three cases; he kept two majority opinions for himself and assigned the other one to Justice Kagan. See Stat Pack, page 24.

Agreement Rates: The two Justices with the highest agreement rate during OT13 were Justices Thomas and Alito (95.8%), followed by the pairs of Justices Scalia and Thomas (94.5%), Ginsburg and Kagan (94.4%), and the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy (91.8%). The two Justices with the lowest agreement rate is the pair of Justices Alito and Sotomayor (74.6%). See Stat Pack, page 29.

Oral Arguments: Justice Scalia regained his title as the Justice who asks the most questions during oral argument. He held that title during the first two years we collected statistics on oral argument, OT10 and OT11, but last year Justice Sotomayor overtook him by an average of 1.1 questions per oral argument. This year Justice Scalia once again holds the title with an average of 19.6 questions per argument, followed by Justice Breyer with 17.5 questions per argument and Justice Sotomayor with 15.6 questions per oral argument. Justice Thomas was, of course, the Justice least likely to ask any questions with no questions asked during the Term and he was followed by Justice Ginsburg with 9.3 questions per argument. See Stat Pack, page 29.

Recommended Citation: Kedar Bhatia, Final Stat Pack for October Term 2013 and key takeaways, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 30, 2014, 12:47 PM),