Last week, we tracked the Court’s yearly caseload in constitutional law on both the civil and criminal dockets. This week, we’re digging deeper to answer three questions: (1) does the Court tend to take more conservative or liberal decisions from the Court of Appeal involving constitutional law issues; (2) is the Court more (or less) likely to reverse a conservative or liberal constitutional law decision; and (3) overall, how likely is the Court to reverse in a case involving constitutional law issues in comparison to the rest of the Court’s docket?
Across the entire period, the Court only slightly inclined towards taking conservative Court of Appeal decisions. Between 1992 and 2017, the Court has decided sixty six civil constitutional law cases where we’ve coded the Court of Appeal decision as conservative and 58 liberal decisions. The Court is substantially more likely to reverse conservative constitutional law decisions than liberal ones. The Court has reversed in 66% of the conservative cases, well above its trend reversal rate, but in only half of the liberal cases.
In Table 445, we review the yearly data for affirmance of conservative decisions (typically, but not always, decisions favoring defendants). In 1992, the Court affirmed two such decisions. It affirmed one in 1994, three in 1995, one in 1997, two in 2000, one in 2001, three in 2002, four in 2004, one per year from 2005 through 2007 and two in 2010, but none since that time.
In Table 446, we review the data for the much more common result – the reversal of a conservative decision. The Court reversed three times in 1992, twice each in 1993 and 1994, once in 1995, three times in 1996, twice in 1997, once in 1998, twice in 1999 and once per year in 2000 and 2001.
The Court reversed three times in 2002, twice in 2003, four times in 2004, once in 2005, twice in 2006, four times in 2007, once each in 2009 and 2010, three times in 2011, once in 2012 and 2015, twice in 2016 and once in 2017.
In Table 447, we review the data for affirmance of liberal decisions. The Court affirmed two liberal decisions in 1992, two per year in 1993 and 1994 and one per year in 1995, 1997 and 1998. The Court reversed in three cases in 1999, two in 2001, one per year in 2002 and 2003, four in 2004, one in 2005, two in 2006 and one each in 2007 and 2008. The Court affirmed one liberal decision per year in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and two in 2017.
The Court reversed two liberal constitutional law decisions in 1992, one per year in 1993 and 1994, two in 1995, one in 1997 and three in 1999. The Court reversed two liberal decisions in 2000, three in 2001, one in 2002, two in 2003, three in 2004, four in 2005, two in 2007 and one in 2008. The Court has reversed only one liberal constitutional law case on the civil side since that time, in 2017.
So was the Court either more or less likely to reverse in constitutional law cases as a whole? We address the composite data in Table 449. For the entire period, the Court decided 129 constitutional law cases on the civil side. The Court reversed completely in 62 cases and partially in another 10, for an overall reversal rate of 55.81% – roughly the same reversal rate as in the docket as a whole. Although the Court reversed in five of eight cases in 1992, between 1993 and 1995, it reversed only 40% of the time across twenty cases. Between 1996 and 1999, the Court reversed at a slightly higher rate of 68.42%.
For the years 2000 through 2002, the Court reversed in half its 34 constitutional law cases. Between 2003 and 2008, things picked up again, as the Court reversed 67.65% of the time. In the years since, the Court has been less likely to reverse in constitutional law cases than the rest of its civil docket, reversing completely in 37.5% of its civil con law cases, and reversing in part in another 8.33%.
Join us back here tomorrow as we review the data on the Court’s constitutional law decisions on the criminal law side of the docket.