William Baude, a University of Chicago law professor, says it is time to cast a light on the U.S. Supreme Court’s secretive “orders docket,” a crucial part of the court’s work that most people don’t know anything about. Writing in the New York Times, Baude explains that work at the Supreme Court is divided into two main categories. One group includes the 70-some cases each year that the court selects for extensive briefing, oral argument and a substantial written opinions. These are the cases we hear about in the news.
The orders docket includes nearly everything else the court must decide — which cases to hear, procedural matters, and whether to grant a stay or injunction that pauses legal proceedings temporarily. There are no oral arguments in these cases and they are often decided without explanation. Because the court doesn't issue opinions in these cases, lawyers don't know what legal standards to apply when litigating the issue again in the future. And because we don't even know which justices have joined most of the orders, we don't know which justices are responsible and whether they are being consistent and principled from case to case.