We’ve been reviewing the data for the average length of majority opinions during the 1990s and comparing it for correlations to the unanimity rate.  In this post, we’re looking at the criminal docket. It turns out that the 1990s were a difficult time for this metric, given that the average length of majority opinions didn’t change substantially (at least in a lasting way).

It’s important to note that we’re defining criminal cases to include both death penalty and non-death cases (we’ll separate them out in a later post).  In 1990, the average majority was 25.91 pages.  That rose to 40.67 in 1992 but fell back to 27.27 in 1994.  The average rose to 38.22 in 1996, 39.38 in 1997 and 41.87 in 1998, but fell back to 31.21 pages in 1999.

There was no consistent pattern in unanimity either.  In 1990, 31.25% of criminal cases were unanimous.  That rose to 62% in 1993 and 60.98% in 1994, but the increase was temporary: 40.2% in 1995, 36.59% in 1996, 45.45% in 1997, 44.44% in 1998 and 41.67% in 1999.

Image: Fort Point, by Helen Hyde

Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum (Creative Commons License)

A few posts ago, I noted that analytics research has demonstrated a correlation between the length of majority opinions and the rate of unanimous opinions – shorter opinions, more unanimity; longer opinions and less unanimity.  So what happened for civil cases between 1990 and 1999?

As we noted a few posts ago, majority opinions were trending longer during this decade.  The average majority was 17.92 pages in 1990, 23.14 by 1994, and after topping out at 28.39 in 1996, still 24.9 pages in 1999.

Although the correlation was by no means smooth, unanimous opinions were indeed becoming less frequent.  In 1990, the unanimity rate was 58.97%.  The rate was still high in 1993 – 58.7%.  By 1995, it was 52.63%.  In 1996, when majority opinions spiked, only 45.16% of civil cases was unanimous.  That number went up the next year, but then fell again: 53.7% in 1998 and 46.15% in 1999.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the criminal cases.

Image: Department of the Treasury exhibits in the Palace of Machinery, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915

Image courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries and Archives (Creative Commons License)

Today, we’re reviewing the Supreme Court’s criminal docket during the 1990s – were total caseloads declining and was the Court writing longer opinions?

For the decade, the Court decided 523 criminal cases.  The Court filed 17,588 pages of majority opinion, and average of 33.63 pages per case – half again longer than the average civil case. Beginning at a high of 80 cases in 1990, total caseloads declined rapidly.  The Court decided 67 cases in 1991, 58 in 1992 and 50 in 1993.  After that, things were fairly flat – 49 cases in 1995, 41 in 1996, 44 in 1997, 45 in 1998 and 48 in 1999.

The Court filed 2,073 pages of majority opinions in 1990.  That figure was up to 2,359 in 1992, before dropping to 1,520 in 1993 and only 1,118 in 1994.  There were 1,733 pages of majorities in 1997, 1,884 in 1998 and 1,498 in 1999.

The average majority opinion increased a bit in length during the decade.  Majorities averaged 25.91 pages in 1990.  By 1992, it was 40.67.  That dropped to 35.33 in 1995 and 38.22 in 1996.  The average opinion was 41.87 pages in 1998 and 31.21 in 1999.

We noted at the outset that longer opinions have proven in analytics studies to be correlated with higher dissent rates.  In the next two weeks, we’ll look at two additional metrics for the 1990s: (1) the unanimity/dissent rate for both civil and criminal cases; and (2) since everyone knows that death penalty cases take an outsize portion of the Court’s time and attention, we’ll divide the average length metrics into death and non-death questions and ask whether each subset is getting longer or shorter.

Image courtesy of Pixabay by crispy-fotografie (no changes).

This week, we begin our look at the impact of declining Court of Appeal caseloads on the work of the Supreme Court.

We’ll be reviewing three questions in order to analyze the impact of the slow decline in cases at the Court of Appeal: (1) did the Supreme Court’s caseload decline? (2) Was the Supreme Court writing less in majority opinions? And (3) Were the Supreme Court’s majority opinions shorter?

I’m asked occasionally why we should care about the length of the Court’s opinions.  There are two reasons.  First, data analysts have demonstrated that the chances of a dissent increase as majority opinions get longer.  Thus, if the Court is writing longer majorities, the chances of splintering the Court’s voice are greater.  Second, as the majority opinions get longer, the Court is deciding more questions.  This not only potentially impacts clients’ interests going forward in the lower courts, but it is of course related to the increased likelihood of dissent.

So, how was the Supreme Court doing in the 1990s?  Today we’re looking at the criminal docket.

For the decade, the Court decided 472 civil cases (an average, of course, of 47.2 per year).  The Court filed 10,595 pages of majority opinions.  Civil majority opinions averaged 22.45 pages. Civil cases were more or less flat during the 1990s at the Supreme Court.  There were 52 civil cases in 1992, 51 in 1994 and 57 in 1997.  There were 54 cases in 1998 and 52 in 1999. The lows of the decade were in 1990 (39 civil cases) and 1996 (31 civil cases).

Civil opinions slowly increased in length at the Supreme Court during the 1990.  In 1990, there were only 699 pages of majority opinions – well below the average of 1,059 pages a year.  That number rose to 990 in 1992.  By 1994, there were 1,180 pages of majority opinions and 1,293 in 1995.  Pages per year remained above the baseline average for the final three years of the decade – 1,380 in 1997, 1,376 in 1998 and 1,259 in 1999.

Majority opinions were definitely getting longer during the 1990s.  In 1990, the average civil majority was 17.92 pages.  By 1992, it was up to 19.03 pages.  In 1994, the average civil majority was 23.14 pages.  By 1996, majority opinions were the longest – 28.39 pages.  That declined a bit to 24.9 pages by 1999, but across the decade, the average majority opinion grew by 40% in length.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the data for the same period on the criminal docket.

Image courtesy of Pixabay by 12019 (no changes).

The sharpest decline in original proceedings between 2011 and 2021 was in the Fourth District – 41.43%.  The Fifth District was second, declining 39.06%.  New filings in the Third District were down 38.43%.  New original proceedings are down in the First District by 31.52%.  New filings were down 26.03% in the Sixth District.  The smallest decline was in the Second District, where new original proceedings were down only 6.6%.

There were 2076 new original proceedings filed in the Fourth District in 2011.  That fell to 1625 in 2015.  There were only 1206 in 2020 and 1216 in 2021.  The Fifth District saw 991 new original proceedings in 2011 and 1022 in 2012.  New original proceedings fell to 691 in 2015, 627 in 2020 and 604 in 2021.  The Third District saw 1067 new original proceedings in 2011.  That fell to 707 in 2015 and reached a low point of 657 in 2021.  The First District saw 1298 new original proceedings in 2011, but that number dropped to 931 by 2015.  In 2020 there were 914 new original proceedings, and filings fell to 889 by 2021.  There were 465 new original proceedings in 2011 in the Sixth District.  New filings fell to 345 in 2015 before reaching their low point of 310 in 2016.  Since then, new filings in the Sixth District have drifted up slightly to 372 in 2020 and 344 in 2021.  There were 2278 new original proceedings in the Second District in 2011.  That increased to 2813 the following year, but it was a one-year bump, as things trended down to 2182 in 2018.  There were 2109 new original proceedings in the Second in 2019, 2054 in 2020 and 1900 in 2021.

Next time, we’ll turn our attention back to the Supreme Court, looking at data about its docket.Image courtesy of Flickr by Jan Arendtsz (no changes).

This week, we’re wrapping up our review of the Court of Appeal’s dockets over the past twenty years, tracking the declines in the court’s docket.

The steepest decline across the eleven years occurred in the Third District, where new notices of appeal declined by 27.43%.  Next was the Sixth District, which declined by 24.37%.  Dockets at the Fourth District declined by 22.42%.  First District new notices of appeal were down 21.6%.  New notices of appeal were down 13.44% in the Fifth District.  The smallest decline was in the largest district, the Second, where new notices of appeal were down only 8.52%.

There were 1947 new notices of appeal filed in the Third District in 2011.  New filings were up to 2047 in 2015 before falling to 1701 in 2018, 1620 in 2020 and 1413 last year.  There were 825 new notices of appeal filed in the Sixth District in 2011.  This increased to 991 by 2014 before declining to 744 in 2019 and only 624 in 2021.  There were 4199 new notices of appeal in the Fourth District in 2011.  New filings were up to 4470 by 2015 before falling to 3884 in 2019 and 3258 in 2021.  There were 1154 new notices of appeal filed in the Fifth District.  That increased to 1306 by 2016.  New filings between 2017 and 2020 were very close to the 2011 level, but it then fell to only 999 by 2021.  There were 2041 new notices of appeal filed in the First District in 2011.   That increased to 2180 by 2015.  New filings declined to 1855 in 2020.  There were 1601 new notices of appeal filed in 2021.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the data for new original proceedings over the same eleven-year period.

Image courtesy of Flickr by G. Lamar (no changes).

Today, we’re reviewing the data for new original proceedings – petitions for writ of mandate, mandamus and the like – between 2001 and 2010.  With the exception of the Fifth District, which saw a 24% increase in original proceedings, the remaining Courts of Appeal saw relatively flat numbers in original proceedings.

The First District began the decade with 1,456 new original proceedings in 2000.  That fell all the way to 1,314 in 2006 before increasing to 1,426 in 2008.  In 2010, there were 1,313 new original proceedings in the First.  There were 3,225 new original proceedings in the Second District.  That dropped to a low of 2,982 in 2004 before bouncing back to 3,101 in 2010.

There were 873 new original proceedings filed in the Third District in 2000.  There were 884 in 2003, 869 in 2005 and 1,056 in 2008 before falling back slightly to 979 in 2010.

There were 2,108 new original proceedings in the Fourth District in 2000.  That was down slightly to 2,019 in 2005 before rising to 2,243 new proceedings in 2007.  There were 1,954 new proceedings in 2010.

There were 778 new original proceedings in the Fifth District in 2000.  That number rose steadily throughout the decade, reaching 978 in 2005 and 1,021 in 2007.  There were 966 new original proceedings in 2010.

There were 455 new original proceedings in the Sixth District in 2000.  There was a slight decline in 2005 (435) and 2006 (426), but new filings were back up after that, settling at 464 in 2010.

Next time, we’ll review the data for new notices of appeal and original proceedings for the years 2011 through 2020.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Sergei Mutovkin (no changes).

This time we’re reviewing the data for new Notices of Appeal in the Court of Appeal for the years 2001 through 2010, tracking the decline in appellate dockets and assessing the impact on the Supreme Court’s work.

Across the decade, the biggest declines in caseload were in the First and Second Districts, followed by the Sixth.

In 2000, there were 2,716 new notices of appeal filed in the First District.  The number never reached 2,500 again across the decade: 2,386 in 2003; 2,260 in 2006 and 2,197 in 2010.  The Second District suffered an almost identical decline, from 6,284 new filings in 2001 to 5,531 in the next, 4,753 in 2005 and 5,043 in 2010.

The Third District actually increased its workload between 2001 and 2010.  There were 1,975 new notices of appeal in 2000.  The number stayed in that general vicinity through 2007 before rising incrementally to 2,021 in 2008, 2,002 in 2009 and 2,094 in 2010.

New notices of appeal in the Fourth District were down, but only slightly.  There were 4,284 new filings in 2000.  That fell to 3,988 in 2006 before recovering back to 4,065 in 2007, 4,095 in 2008, 4,148 in 2009 and 4,124 in 2010.

New filings in the Fifth District showed a bit of a dropoff with the economic downturn toward the end of the decade, but there were signs of recovery within a couple of years.  There were 1,535 new notices of appeal in the Fifth in 2000.  That fell to 1,506 by 2004 and to 1,260 in 2008 but was back up to 1,407 in 2010.

New filings in the Sixth District were down across the decade.  There were 1,021 new notices of appeal in 2000.  The number was down to 911 in 2005 and fell further to 824 by 2009.  In 2010, there were 873 new notices of appeal in the Sixth District.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the data for new original proceedings (generally, petitions for writ of mandamus or mandate).

Image courtesy of Flickr by tdlucas5000 (no changes).

This is part 2 in a series of posts reviewing the dockets at the Court of Appeal for the past thirty-plus years and their impact on the work of the Supreme Court.  This time, we review the data for newly filed original writ proceedings.

We showed last time that Notices of Appeal declined between 1996 and 2000, although not as sharply as they have recently.  But in contrast, writ petitions actually increased.  In 1996, there were 1,320 writ petitions in the First District.  In 2000, there were 1,456.  Filings were up more than ten percent in the Second District between 1996 and 1997 before stepping back a bit.  There were 759 new writ petitions in the Third District in 1996 and 873 in 2000.  Petitions in the Fourth District were up a bit, from 1,956 in 1996 to 2,108 in 2000.  Filings were up sharply in the Fifth District – by 30% – and in the Sixth District, by 21%.  There were 598 new petitions in the Fifth in 1996, growing to 778 by 2000.  There were 375 petitions in the Sixth District in 1996, growing to 455 in 2000.

Next time, we’ll review the Notices of Appeal and original proceedings data for the years 2001 through 2010.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Tracie Hall (no changes).

Today we’re beginning a series of posts examining the declining dockets at the Court of Appeal and assessing the impact on the Supreme Court’s work.

Below, we report the District-by-District new Notices of Appeal numbers (civil, criminal and juvenile) for the years 1996 through 2000.  All data comes from the California Courts Court Statistics Reports, which are available on the California Courts website.

Filings were comparatively steady in the First District.  In Judicial Year 1995-1996, there were 2,864 new Notices of Appeal.  That dropped to 2,726 in 1997 and 2,671 in 1998, but recovered to 2,698 in 1999 and 2,716 in 2000.  Filings in the Second District increased from 1996 (6,548 new Notices of Appeal) to 1998 (6,709), but then dropped fairly sharply, to 6,262 in 1999 and 6,284 in 2000.  Filings in the Third District were almost completely flat from 1996 to 1999 before dropping slightly in 2000.  The story was the same in the Fourth District – filings flat from 1996 to 1998, then a drop from 4,604 in 1998 to 4,485 in 1999 and 4,284 in 2000.  New Notices of Appeal in the Fifth and Sixth Districts remained at approximately the same level each year from 1996 to 2000.

Next time we’ll take a look at the data for new original proceedings for the same years.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Malcolm Carlaw (no changes).