Even with Five Decisions Today the Court is Still Setting Records for its Slow Pace

Today marks the 225th day of the 2017 Supreme Court term.  The Court compensated for a slow term so far with five new decisions. Even with decisions in cases Murphy v. NCAA, Dahda v. United States, Byrd v. United States, United States v. Sanchez-Gomez, and McCoy v. Louisiana, the Court is still behind its output every other year under Chief Justice John Roberts.  Counting the output from days since the first oral argument of the term seems the most appropriate way to normalize the Court’s output rate across terms. This figure shows where the Court stands now in terms of decision output and how this compares to all of the terms starting in 2005.

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The Court’s previous low count for opinion output after 225 days was in 2007 with 31 opinions.

When we look at output per justice 225 days in the Supreme Court term, all justices are at or below their average output rate this far into a term under Chief Justice Roberts.

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With an opinion each today, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy each caught up with their previous low output counts for 225 days into the term with two majority opinions apiece.  Justice Sotomayor is the only justice to set a new record for herself at this point in a term with only three majority opinions.

Other measures show similarity between this term and the preceding terms under Chief Justice Roberts.  Although the Court has taken a long time between oral arguments and decisions in cases this term, especially with the 195 days between oral arguments and the decision in Jesner v. Arab Bank, the Court was moving slower at this point in the term in 2009.

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The Court is, however, still moving considerably slower this term than it has in all terms since 2010.

With 34 decisions still left on the Court’s slate the justices still have to generate decisions in more than half of the orally argued cases this term.  Even so, the justices had more decisions to write 225 days into the term three times under Chief Justice Roberts.

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Finally, even with the divisiveness between justices evident in split decisions with multiple separate opinions as was the case in Murphy v. NCAA, the Court has been more fractured on average this far into a term several times under Chief Justice Roberts. The following figure tracks the average difference in majority versus minority votes by case 225 days into the term.

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The Roberts Court has twice had lower average coalition difference sizes 225 days into the term. While the Court is still on the low end for this aspect of voting, it is not looking to set records in this respect.

By accelerating its output with five decisions today, the Court is on a closer track to its position in previous terms.  The justices still have many high-profile cases argued earlier in the term with decisions pending including in Gill v. Whitford and Masterpiece Cakeshop.  The length of time since the arguments in these cases leads to speculation that the justices are having difficulty forming coalitions. With many divisive cases still undecided we may see another slowdown in the Court’s output before this term comes to an end.


On Twitter: @AdamSFeldman

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