Wisconsin Supreme Court Statistics, 1996-1997

These tables are derived from information contained in 83 Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions filed between September 1, 1996, and August 31, 1997.  The total of 83 decisions does not include the following items contained in the Supreme Court’s listing of opinions and dispositional orders for this period: (1) decisions arising from disciplinary proceedings against judges and lawyers; and (2) orders pertaining to motions for reconsideration.

Two additional cases—deadlocked (3-3) per curiam decisions (DeRuyter v. Wisconsin Electric Power Co. and State v. Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp.)—figure only in the “Number of Oral Arguments Presented” table.

Occasionally, the Court’s listing of opinions and dispositional orders contains separate entries for individual cases that were ultimately consolidated and resolved by a single decision.  If two or more cases were combined in this manner, the decision is counted only once for the purposes of the following tables.  All of the decisions may be found on the Wisconsin Court System website. http://wicourts.gov

The tables are available as a compete set and by individual topic according to the subsets listed below.

Four-to-Three Decisions
Decisions Arranged by Vote Split
Frequency of Justices in the Majority
Distribution of Opinion Authorship
Frequency of Agreement Between Pairs of Justices
Average Time Between Oral Argument and Opinions Authored by Each Justice
Number of Oral Arguments Presented by Individual Firms and Agencies

 

 

Concurrences, Dissents, and Efficiency

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision in State v. Ramon G. Gonzalez (2012AP1818-CR, filed on December 3, 2014) was the separate opinion authored by Chief Justice Abrahamson.  Although labeled a concurrence, it resembled a dissent—not with regard to the decision in Gonzalez, which did not figure in her discussion, but with regard to the Court’s new procedure for opinion preparation and mandate.  Adopted in the fall of 2014 by a deeply divided court, the new rules are designed to accelerate the release of decisions.  To this end, the four justices (Crooks, Roggensack, Ziegler, and Gableman) who voted to adopt the rules over the objections of their three colleagues placed specific limits on the number of days for writing, circulating, and revising opinions.  Chief Justice Abrahamson’s concurrence served as a public opportunity to express misgivings over the new rules.  While acknowledging that “timely release of our opinions after oral argument is important for the litigants, for the bench and bar, for the public, and for this court,” she cautioned that “we should not, however, sacrifice thoughtful discussion and careful collegial review of draft opinions just for the sake of speed.”  She seemed especially troubled that the new time restrictions “are unwelcoming to concurrences and dissents.”

This post presents information on the relationship between the time taken to file decisions and the number of concurring and dissenting opinions included in these decisions.  As noted in previous posts, the number of days between oral argument and decision filing has increased over the past 17 years (the period currently covered by SCOWstats data), while the number of decisions filed has diminished considerably over the same interval.  (See Graphs 1 and 2.)  Clearly, more time is being taken to file fewer decisions, and it seems plausible to hypothesize that a principal reason is the larger share of contentious decisions in recent years (see “2013-14 in Perspective: Part 1”).  Pursuing this line of conjecture, one may speculate reasonably that a larger proportion of contentious decisions corresponds with a larger number of concurring and dissenting opinions—and that the number of concurring and dissenting opinions correlates with the increasing amount of time taken to file decisions.

Before presenting statistics, it may be helpful to explain that the figure of interest here is the average number of concurring and dissenting opinions per decision.  A simple calculation of the number of concurring and dissenting opinions each term would be less revealing, because some years yielded a large number of concurring and dissenting opinions mainly because a large number of cases were decided.  In such instances, the average number of concurring and dissenting opinions per decision could well be low, as evident in Table 1.

Proceeding, then, with the average number of concurring and dissenting opinions per decision, the correlation with the number of days taken to filing decisions is quite strong, as demonstrated in Graph 3—which encourages the plausible surmise that a larger number of concurring/dissenting opinions per decision contributes to a larger number of days required to file a decision.

At any rate, the four conservative justices who adopted the Court’s new procedures appear to have reached this conclusion, for their rules address concurring and dissenting opinions at length and direct at these opinions an explicit statement of blame for delays in filing decisions.  With this in mind, it should occasion no surprise to learn that the Court’s two liberal members (Justices Abrahamson and Bradley) have written the largest number of concurrences and dissents.  In fact, as shown in Table 2, Justices Abrahamson and Bradley authored more concurrences and dissents—both in 2013-14 and over the entire six terms in which the seven current justices have served together—than did the other five justices collectively.  Justice Abrahamson contributed far more of these opinions than any of her colleagues, including an output in 2013-14 that was 50 percent higher than the total written by all four of the justices who approved the new rules on concurrences/dissents.  Thus there can be little doubt regarding the primary target of these rules—nor any surprise over Justice Abrahamson’s disquiet.

Views will differ regarding the new limits adopted by the conservative justices.  Should the procedures be interpreted as a laudable effort to increase the Court’s efficiency or as an attempt by those in the majority to minimize opinions at variance with their own?  It may even be possible for some observers to embrace both interpretations.  In any case, if the new rules are enforced in their current form, they will indeed reduce the number of days between oral argument and opinion filing.  And if a correlation persists between this reduction and a smaller number of concurrences and dissents per decision, it can be illustrated beyond a doubt by the end of the term.  Less agreement will be likely as to whether such an impact on concurrences and dissents should be applauded.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Statistics, 1997-1998

These tables are derived from information contained in 72 Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions filed between September 1, 1997, and August 31, 1998.  The total of 72 decisions does not include the following items contained in the Supreme Court’s listing … [Continue reading]

2013-14 in Perspective: Part 3 (Reversals in Criminal Cases)

 A previous comment (“Reversals in Criminal Cases,” posted September 1, 2014) presented data on two categories of Supreme Court reversals of rulings from the court of appeals: reversals of rulings that had favored defendants, and reversals of rulings … [Continue reading]

2013-14 in Perspective: Part 2 (4-3 Majorities)

Shifting 4-3 Majorities The one-vote margins in 4-3 decisions make them a sensitive indicator of change in the influence of individual justices and in the dominance of certain blocs of justices over the years.  This post offers some findings on how … [Continue reading]

2013-14 in Perspective: Part 1 (“Polarization”?)

Information now available for the Court’s 2013-14 term has invited the question of whether the Court’s performance in 2013-14 represented a departure from the recent past.  Responses to this question often serve as the means by which commentators … [Continue reading]

Wisconsin Supreme Court Statistics, 2013-2014

These tables are derived from information contained in 61 Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions filed between September 1, 2013, and August 31, 2014.  The total of 61 decisions does not include the following items contained in the Supreme Court’s listing … [Continue reading]

Reversals in Criminal Cases

This post considers two categories of Supreme Court reversals of rulings from the court of appeals: reversals of rulings that had favored defendants, and reversals of rulings that had favored the state.[1]  The discussion covers 15 terms (1998/99 … [Continue reading]

Race of Defendants in OWI, Drug, and Sex Cases

During the past 15 terms (1998/99 through 2012/13), the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided 332 criminal cases.[1]  In a large majority of these cases (89% or 295/332), public sources list the defendant's race as well as the charges filed against him or … [Continue reading]

Wisconsin Supreme Court Statistics, 1998-1999

These tables are derived from information contained in 79 Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions filed between September 1, 1998, and August 31, 1999.  The total of 79 decisions does not include the following items contained in the Supreme Court’s listing … [Continue reading]