Last time, we showed that the lag time from the end of party briefing to oral argument was longer for civil cases in which the Court was divided than cases which were ultimately decided unanimously. But is lag time related to the degree of disagreement? Do 4-3 decisions take the longest, or do 6-1 decisions get delayed because the Court is trying to find a path to unanimity?
We divide the lag time data into four groups: unanimous, one dissent, two dissents and three dissents. One caution about this data: now that we’re dividing the split decisions into three groups, the data sets for most years are quite small, so our averages have a degree of randomness built in. But let’s see what the data says.
In the nineties, there was very little indication that a one-dissenter case gets delayed while the Court seeks a path to unanimity. In 1995, 1996 and 1998, unanimous decisions had a longer lag time than one, two or three-dissenter civil decisions. Two dissenter cases took the longest in 1990, 1991 and 1993. Three dissenter cases averaged the longest lag times in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 1999.
The data was a bit less spread out between 2000 and 2009. In 2005 and 2008, unanimous civil decisions had the longest average lag time. In 2002 and 2004, one-dissenter cases took the longest. In only one year – 2009 – did 4-3 decisions average the longest lag time. Two-dissenter cases averaged the longest lag time five times: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2007.
Sharply divided cases have been relatively uncommon since 2010 – there were no 4-3 civil decisions in 2012, 2015, 2018 and so far in 2019. There were no 6-1 decisions in 2018. Over the past decade, unanimous decisions have averaged the longest lag time in 2013, 2016, 2018 and 2019. One-dissenter cases took the longest in 2010, 2015 and 2017. Two-dissenter cases had the longest lag times in 2011 and 2012, and three-dissenter cases were the longest in 2014.
Overall, the data doesn’t seem to support a clear relationship between the degree of disagreement on the Court and the lag time from end of briefing to oral argument. In 10 of the past 30 years, two-dissenter cases took longest. But in 9 years, unanimous decisions took the longest. In 6 years, 4-3 decisions were the longest lag times. In only 5 of the past 30 years did 6-1 decisions take the longest.
Join us back here next time as we continue to study the Court’s lag time data.