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).