PACE OF SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

Earlier this week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an article[1] describing an unusual measure adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Concerned about a looming backlog of cases, the justices voted 5-2 to limit the number of minutes during which they could discuss individual cases before reaching a decision.  Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who opposed the time limits and suggested instead that the justices meet more frequently, provided a sense of the backlog’s dimensions in a memo dated May 21.  In particular, she expressed concern that so late in the term the justices had only discussed 14 (23%) of the 60 cases that they hope to decide by June 30.

The following table, which covers 14 terms (1999-00 through 2012-13) suggests that the current backlog is indeed striking—especially when compared to the early years of the period, when the court handled a much larger number of cases (sometimes twice as many as in 2012-13) and did so at a brisker pace than the justices have managed so far this year.  Moreover, the figures in the table pertain to the dates of issue for decisions, which could well be a good deal later than the discussions noted by Justice Abrahamson—further underscoring the extent of the delay in 2014.

Reading the table: Taking the 2008-09 term as an example, 62 decisions were issued that year—16 decisions (26%) by April 15, 2009, 21 decisions (34%) by May 15, 29 decisions (47%) by June 15, and 54 decisions (87%) by July 15.

Term Percentage of Term’s Decisions Issued by the Following Dates
April 15 May 15 June 15 July 15
2012-13 13/46=28% 15/46=33% 18/46=39% 40/46=87%
2011-12 24/61=39% 28/61=46% 36/61=59% 59/61=97%
2010-11 17/61=28% 22/61=36% 32/61=52% 53/61=87%
2009-10 8/59=14% 11/59=19% 15/59=25% 47/59=80%
2008-09 16/62=26% 21/62=34% 29/62=47% 54/62=87%
2007-08 16/70=23% 20/70=29% 35/70=50% 67/70=96%
2006-07 23/67=34% 24/67=36% 32/67=48% 60/67=90%
2005-06 22/81=27% 23/81=28% 47/81=58% 81/81=100%
2004-05 28/98=29% 39/98=40% 55/98=56% 97/98=99%
2003-04 36/90=40% 39/90=43% 57/90=63% 90/90=100%
2002-03 19/92=21% 28/92=30% 39/92=42% 87/92=95%
2001-02 29/89=33% 39/89=44% 45/89=51% 84/89=94%
2000-01 28/93=30% 32/93=34% 50/93=54% 93/93=100%
1999-00 27/89=30% 32/89=36% 41/89=46% 89/89=100%

The table includes per curiam decisions—but not decisions arising from disciplinary proceedings against judges and lawyers, nor petitions for review and decisions on various motions (for reconsideration, to dissolve injunctions, to vacate decisions, and so forth).

Members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (terms run from September 1 to August 31)
2008/09-2012/13: Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Ziegler, Gableman.
2007/08: Abrahamson, Bradley, Butler, Crooks, Prosser, Roggensack, Ziegler.
2004/05-2006/07: Abrahamson, Bradley, Butler, Crooks, Wilcox, Prosser, Roggensack.
2003/04: Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Sykes, Wilcox, Prosser, Roggensack.
1999/00-2002/03: Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Sykes, Wilcox, Prosser, Bablitch.

[1] http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/wisconsin-supreme-court-imposes-time-limits-on-debate-to-clear-backlog-b99285777z1-262300041.html

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

alan.ball@marquette.edu

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 48 years.

Speak Your Mind

*