WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court has never been so slow.
It’s the first time the justices have gone more than three months without considering cases in which they’ve heard arguments since they took office in early October.
According to Adam Feldman, creator of the Empirical SCOTUS blog, they’ve always decided at least one case up to this point, and usually several.
But autumn passed into winter without decisions, and even a three-week vacation did not yield published opinions.
The next opportunity is on Monday before the judges take a break for almost four weeks.
The court offered no explanation, but there are several possibilities: a personnel change involving Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, less consensus on a deeply divided bench and the fallout from a leak last term of a draft opinion in a case that overturned a half-century of abortion rights.
Although their opinions were not fruitful, the trial attorneys’ questioning of the judges was robust, with Jackson being the most verbose questioner of the court’s arguments, Feldman found.
“If the amount of speaking is related to the amount of writing we’ll find in her opinions and the opinions she signs off on, that could also hinder the pace,” Feldman wrote on Twitter.
The divide between the six conservative and three liberal justices is increasingly apparent in the rulings. Last semester produced more 6-3 results than unanimous decisions, which typically account for the largest share, according to statistics compiled by Scotusblog.
That term, too, seems likely to lead to sharp disagreements over race in college admissions, voting rights, election laws, and disputes between the religious right and gay rights.
Cases in which more than one justice writes an opinion, whether dissenting or concurring, take longer than those in which the court is unanimous.
In 2018, then-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued the court’s first opinion on November 6 in a case heard 36 days earlier. “Fast Ruth,” as Ginsburg jokingly called herself, was the fastest writer at court. Ginsburg died in 2020.
Last year, just under 30% of decisions were unanimous, and some cases this term are expected to reach the same result.
That’s where Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion in the abortion case, which came out in May, could come into play. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that judges have changed some of their internal practices to reduce the likelihood of opinion leakage. Any changes may increase the time for a final decision.
The court did not say anything about the status of the investigation into the leak, which was ordered by Chief Justice John Roberts. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the court brought in outside government investigators to help narrow down possible suspects by early summer. But the culprit, apparently, was not found.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the last of nine members of the nation’s highest court to comment on the June decision that overturned nearly half a century of abortion rights.
Sotomayor was answering a simple question from Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who was hosting the American Association of Law Schools’ Justice event. After the important decisions of the last term, Chemerinsky asked: “How are you?”
Sotomayor appeared to focus on just one of the term’s big conservative-focused cases, which also included expanding gun and religious rights and curbing the Biden administration’s efforts to fight climate change. In all of these cases, Sotomayor disagrees.
“If you’re asking how this important decision has affected me, my description of the words would change every day,” Sotomayor said. “Sometimes I was shocked. Other times I was just really, really sad. And many times I had a sense of despair about the direction my judgment was going.”
But in the end, she said, she felt she had no choice but to persevere. “But I realized that there is no way for a person to become a victim of despair, that I must stand up and continue to fight,” she said.
The event took place in early January, and last week the association posted a video on the network.
Other judges spoke of the damage done to the court by the leak. Justice Elena Kagan spoke several times this summer and fall about the dangers of seeing the court as a political body.
Sotomayor appeared virtually at the law school association event, but she was one of the court’s most frequent travelers before the coronavirus pandemic changed everything.
According to her, only then-Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, could compete with her in getting out of Washington.
Judges are supposed to report their trips if someone else pays the bill in an annual notice that is made public.
But the watchdog group Fix the Court found gaps in the reporting of Sotomayor and other justices.
The group on Tuesday sued the Justice Department under the federal Freedom of Information Act over records related to the judges’ trips. The U.S. Marshals Service, part of the Justice Department, routinely provides security when judges leave town.
Fix. The court is requesting records from 2018 to 2022. Two previous lawsuits and requests for information under government public records laws revealed trips the judges didn’t report and additional details about some trips that did.
In 2016, Sotomayor took six trips paid for by public universities that she initially skipped. She eventually updated her report for that year.
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