Last time, we began our examination of the individual Justices’ writing habits with a review of how the majority opinions in civil cases were distributed from 1990 to 2018. Today, we’re looking at the average length of those opinions, Justice by Justice.
The real lesson we see in Table 749 is that although there are highs and lows each year, “highest/lowest” is something of a misnomer when applied to these years – most of the Justices were clustered close together in most years. In 1990, Chief Justice Lucas led at 22.75 and Justice Mosk averaged twelve pages, but five Justices – Arabian, Eagleson, Lucas, Kaufman and Kennard – were between 18.5 and 22.75 pages. In 1991, Justice Baxter led at 21.6 pages and Justice Broussard, in his final year on the Court, was at seven pages. Chief Justice Lucas and Justices Arabian, Eagleson, Kennard and Panelli were all between 16.63 and 19.7 pages. In 1992, Justice Puglia’s one opinion was twenty-six pages. Justice Kennard led the permanent Justices at 23 pages. Justice George was 15.75 pages. Justices Arabian, Baxter, Mosk and Panelli were all between 16.25 and 19.43 pages. In 1993, all the Justices were closely clustered – Justices Baxter averaged 19.14 pages and Chief Justice Lucas was at 13.4, but Justices Panelli, Arabian, George and Mosk were between 16.67 and 18.33 pages. In 1994, Justice Mosk averaged 32.63 pages and Justice Panelli averaged 13. Four Justices – Baxter (25.1), George (23.8), Werdegar (22.5) and Chief Justice Lucas (22.4) were all in the low-to-mid 20s. In 1995, Chief Justice Lucas averaged 30.43 pages. Justice Werdegar was shortest at 15 pages. Justices Baxter (26.5), George (22.57) and Mosk (22.25) were all in the twenties, and Justice Arabian was right behind (18.75). In 1996, two Justices averaged more than thirty pages per case – Werdegar (34.5) and Arabian (30.75). Three more Justices averaged in the high 20s, and two in the mid-20s. The numbers were bunched in 1997 too. Chief Justice George averaged 36.71 pages, but five Justices were in the mid-twenties – Mosk (26.92), Brown (26.5), Chin (26.4), Werdegar (26.38) and Baxter (25.29), and the one remaining Justice (Kennard) averaged 23.75 pages.
In 1998, Justice Baxter averaged 39.25 pages and Chief Justice George, 31.67 pages. The remaining five Justices averaged in the 20s – Kennard (28), Mosk (24.64), Chin (23), Werdegar (22) and Brown (21.1). In 1999, Chief Justice George (36.22) and Justice Baxter (30.67) both averaged over thirty pages per opinion. Two Justices averaged in the twenties – Werdegar (28.43) and Mosk (23.6), and three more averaged in the teens – Chin (19), Brown (15.38) and Kennard (15.2). In 2000, Justice Mosk led, averaging 30.33 pages. Four Justices were in the twenties – Baxter (29.5), Chief Justice George (28.14), Brown (21.63) and Chin (20.2). Justice Werdegar and Kennard wrote the shortest decisions: 17.89 and 15.33 pages. In 2001, Justice Mosk once again led the Court, averaging 31.86 pages, while four Justices – Chief Justice George (29.25) and Justices Werdegar (25.29), Baxter (24.57) and Brown (24.08) were in the twenties. Justices Chin (17.71) and Kennard (12) were shortest. In 2002, Chief Justice led, averaging 29 pages per opinions. Justice Baxter averaged 26 pages. Justices Chin and Werdegar averaged 22.67 and 21.67 pages, respectively. In 2003, Chief Justice George wrote the longest opinions at 38 pages. Justices Moreno (22.67), Baxter (24.5), Brown (24.5) and Werdegar (22.67) all were in the twenties. Justices Kennard (17.88) and Chin (16.83) wrote the shortest opinions. In 2004, opinions got somewhat shorter. The Chief Justice once again wrote the longest – 43.6 pages. Justices Moreno (24.09), Werdegar (22.21) and Kennard (21.25) were in the twenties, and Justices Chin (16.8), Baxter (16.6) and Brown (14.33) wrote the shortest opinions.
In 2005, Chief Justice George wrote the longest criminal majorities (a trend that would continue until his retirement) – 32.38 pages. The remaining six Justices were all clustered in the twenties – Brown (23.75), Moreno (22.83), Baxter (22.63), Werdegar (22.17), Chin (21.5) and Kennard (20.14). The numbers spread out a bit in 2006 – the Chief Justice once again led at 43 pages, Justices Moreno (29.44), Baxter (24.25), Chin (23.75) and Werdegar (22.33) were all in the twenties, and Justices Kennard and Corrigan were at 16.25 and 16.17, respectively. In 2007, the Chief Justice averaged 37.75 pages for civil majorities. Justices Baxter (26), Moreno (25.91), Werdegar (22.6) and Kennard (20.5) were all in the twenties. Justice Chin averaged 18.8 pages, and Justice Corrigan 14.33. In 2008, Chief Justice George averaged 67.5 pages, and the other six Justices were all in the twenties again. In 2009, Chief Justice George averaged 62.25 pages. Justices Baxter, Chin and Werdegar were all between twenty and twenty-two, and Justices Moreno (19.89), Kennard (18.11) and Corrigan (12) were in the teens. In 2010, the Chief Justice averaged 39.67 pages. Justice Werdegar averaged 30.17 pages. Justices Corrigan (27), Baxter (26.5) and Chin (24.13) were in the twenties, and Justices Moreno and Kennard wrote the shortest opinions. In 2011, new Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye averaged 61 pages. Justices Werdegar (28.78), Moreno (26), Baxter (25.14) and Corrigan (21.8) were all in the twenties, and Justices Kennard and Chin wrote the shortest opinions.
Finally, let’s look at the most recent seven year period. In 2012, the Chief Justice’s average civil majority was 43.5 pages. Four Justices – Werdegar (29.2), Corrigan (26), Liu (24.5) and Baxter (23) were in the twenties. Justice Kennard was just below, averaging 19.75. In 2013, Justice Liu averaged the longest majorities at 35.13. The Chief Justice was at 34.5. Justices Werdegar (26), Baxter (23.5) and Kennard (21.5) were in the twenties, and Justices Chin and Corrigan wrote the shortest opinions that year. In 2014, the Chief Justice’s civil majorities averaged 51 pages. Justice Baxter averaged 33.33 pages, and the remaining Justices were all in the twenties. In 2015, three Justices – the Chief (35.14), Werdegar (31.57) and Chin (31.25) were all in the thirties. Justice Liu (24.25) and Cuellar (23) were in the twenties, and Justices Corrigan and Kruger wrote the shortest majorities. In 2016, the Chief Justice averaged 38.75 pages, Justice Liu was at 31.5 and Justice Werdegar averaged 30.2. Justice Corrigan (25) and Cuellar (20.67) were in the twenties and Justices Kruger and Chin were in the teens. In 2017, the Chief Justice averaged 36 pages. Justice Cuellar was next, averaging 28 pages. Justices Liu (24.29), Werdegar (23) and Corrigan (22.33) were in the twenties, and Justices Chin and Kruger wrote the shortest opinions. Finally, last year, the Chief Justice averaged 43.13 pages. Three Justices – Kruger (29.33), Cuellar (25.4) and Corrigan (22.33) were in the twenties. Justices Chin (19.29) and Liu (17) wrote the shortest civil majorities.
So what’s the bottom line here? For the most part, the recent members of the Court have had relatively similar styles. Majority opinions in civil cases have tended for the most part to be consistently between twenty and thirty pages. Both Chief Justices George and Cantil-Sakauye tended in most years to write among the longest civil majorities, perhaps because Chief Justices tend to write for the Court in the most complicated and/or high profile cases. Among the current members of the Court, Justices Chin, Corrigan and Kruger (depending on whether 2018 turns out to be an outlier) generally write slightly shorter civil opinions.
Join us back here next time as we turn our attention to the criminal docket.