At The Supreme Court: Case Of The Shrinking Docket


Why is the Supreme Court running out of cases, asks the New York Times? The justices issued only 69 opinions last year, compared with 154 as recently as the mid-1980s. The court has taken about 40 percent fewer cases so far this term than last. It now faces noticeable gaps in its calendar for late winter and early spring. Relatively few of the cases it is deciding speak to the core of the country's concerns. The federal government has been losing fewer cases in lower courts and has less reason to appeal. As Congress enacts fewer laws, the justices have fewer statutes to interpret. Justices who think they might end up on the losing side of an important case might vote not to take it.

“In the post-Bush v. Gore era, the court may be concerned about taking the wrong case and making an unpopular decision,” said Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Schauer argued in a Harvard Law Review article that the court's work “had only minimal direct engagement with the central issues of the nation's public and policy agenda.”


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