December 3, 2007
Is the Supreme Court Overworked?
In an article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, Erwin Chemerinsky points out that last year the Supreme Court decided 68 cases. This year it will probably not decide that many as there are only 42 cases on the docket now. In the 1980s, the court decided about 150 cases per year. For much of the 20th century the Supreme Court decided about 200 cases per year.
Chemerinsky discusses several theories about why the output is decreasing surmising that it is because the clerks are reviewing the requests for Writs of Certiorari as a group except for Judge Stevens whose clerks review every writ request. I doubt that is the reason myself as, according the Rehnquist in his landmark book, The Supreme Court, only one judge needs to request discussion of a case in conference to get it discussed. Therefore the cases that are not discussed are the ones that not one single judge found interesting enough to even discuss the possibility of issuing a writ.
Chemerinsky also muses that the opinions are getting longer and therefore tend to be more unwieldy. The opinion in the recent Seattle school desegregation case was 184 pages not counting appendices. See 127 S.Ct. 2738 (2007).
What Chemerinsky does not point out is that the Supreme Court budget this year is about $76 million, more than $1 million per case.
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