Last time, we were evaluating how much of the Court’s civil and criminal dockets came from divided Court of Appeal decisions, and whether decisions with a dissenter typically took longer to decide at the Supreme Court level. This week, we’re looking at a new issue – how much of the Court’s docket is accounted for by published decisions? The conventional wisdom is that the Court spends nearly all its time reviewing published decisions, and that makes sense – you would expect that any issue important enough to draw the Supreme Court’s attention would have been important enough to be published below. So let’s start with the civil docket.
In Table 422 below, we report the raw numbers – year by year, how many civil cases did the Court decide which were published at the Court of Appeal level. In 1994, 32 of the Court’s civil decisions were published below. In 1995, 34 were. The number dipped to only 18 in 1996, but was relatively steady from 1997 through 2005, always hovering in the mid-30s. In 2006, 41 of the Court’s decisions were published below. In 2007, 44 were. Between 2008 and 2010, the number reverted to trend – 35, 35 and 30 published decisions, respectively.
Since 2010, in terms of raw numbers, published decisions on the civil side have been dropping. In 2011, 23 of the Court’s civil decisions were published below. In 2012, 21 were, and the following year, 22 were. In 2014, 19 civil decisions were published below. Since that time, the number’s been edging upwards – 28 in 2015, 29 in 2016 and 33 last year.
Of course, the significance of all that depends on just how many cases the Court decided each year. So below, we report the same data, with the number of civil decisions published below reported as a percentage of the total civil docket. What we see is that with only occasional short spikes, the number has been quite steady, sitting at between 60 and 80 percent for most of the past twenty-four years.
The years 1994-1997 were almost flat – 62.75% in 1994, 59.65% in 1995 and 60% in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, 72.22% of the Court’s civil docket was published below. In 1999, the number dropped slightly to 63.46%. The following year, it was 63.27%. In 2001, 68.75% of the civil docket was published. In 2002, 70.83% was, and in 2003, it was 72.73%. The share was flat in 2004 and 2005 – 66.04% in 2004, 66.67% in 2005.
The share rose a bit from 2006 through 2009 – 77.36% in 2006, 78.57% in 2007, 87.5% in 2008 and 79.55% in 2009. In 2010, 71.43% of the civil docket was published, and that fell to only 69.7% in 2011. In 2012, 80.77% of the civil docket was published. That dipped again to 68.75% in 2013, but has been steady since – 82.61% in 2014, 87.5% in 2015, 78.38% in 2016 and 78.57% last year.
Join us back here tomorrow as we take a look at the Court’s criminal docket.