So . . . Where Are The (Argued) Supreme Court Opinions?

As Thanksgiving draws near, I began wondering where the argued Supreme Court opinions are. Sure, we’ve had three per curiam summary reversals, but usually by this point in November, we’ve had at least an opinion or two released in an argued case. The next hand-down opportunity comes on November 30, and if we get an opinion then, it will be only the third time in the last 20 years we’ve had such a late initial hand-down; if they wait until December, we’re entering even more rarified company. (For those plagued with insomnia, a listing of initial hand-downs going back to October Term 1989 is available after the jump.)

The Term didn’t have an especially late start (Oct. 5), which is earlier than some (OT96 began on October 7, and SOC still got the first opinion out by 11/6). And the October sitting this Term had its share of relatively straightforward cases, not that a case needs to be particularly straightforward to be on the fast track. (During OT97, SOC issued State Oil v. Kahn by 11/4, overruling longstanding antitrust precedent on vertical price maintenance.)

The reduction in speed largely may reflect the change in personnel. Justice O’Connor seemed to relish being the first to release an opinion, and released on opinion on the first hand-down day in 11 of the 18 terms in the sample for which she was on the Court. Maybe without her to chide colleagues about holding up her opinions, dissents aren’t coming in with the requisite speed. And it may be that the new Chief has discouraged a rush into print.

Finally, it may be that the Term (effectively) began too early, back on September 9–at least inasmuch as Citizens United was argued that day, and separate writings in that case may be keeping the Justices from their other opinions. But things should be clearer early next week.

UPDATE: At the risk of looking even more deranged than usual, I took advantage of a quiet morning before Thanksgiving to add stats for OT88-OT68. It shows that this term is shaping up to be one of the four latest starts of the past 41 years. (Although admittedly, it’s always within the range of a few weeks, or sometimes even days.)

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: I’ve added information back to OT1946 after the jump.


OT08 11/12 Roberts
OT07 12/4 Roberts, Ginsburg
OT06 11/13 Kennedy (Ayers v. Belmontes)
OT05 11/8 Stevens, Breyer
OT04 11/9 Rehnquist, O’Connor
OT03 11/12 Scalia
OT02 11/5 Rehnquist, O’Connor
OT01 11/13 O’Connor, Ginsburg
OT00 11/7 Scalia, Ginsburg
OT99 11/30 Breyer
OT98 11/3 O’Connor
OT97 11/4 O’Connor, Ginsburg
OT96 11/6 O’Connor
OT95 10/31 Scalia, Kennedy
OT94 11/1 O’Connor
OT93 11/9 O’Connor (two opinions)
OT92 11/16 Stevens
OT91 11/5 O’Connor
OT90 11/6 O’Connor
OT89 11/7 Marshall; O’Connor
OT88 11/8 Marshall
OT87 11/10 Rehnquist
OT86 11/4 O’Connor, Scalia
OT85 11/18 Powell, Rehnquist
OT84 12/4 Stevens
OT83 11/1 Marshall, Blackmun, Rehnquist
OT82 11/15 O’Connor
OT81 11/10 White, Blackmun
OT80 11/17 White
OT79 11/13 Stewart
OT78 11/28 Marshall, Rehnquist
OT77 11/8 Blackmun, Stevens
OT76 11/2 Stewart
OT75 11/12 Blackmun
OT74 11/19 Douglas, Blackmun, per curiam
OT73 11/19 Douglas, Stewart, White, Marshall, 2 PCs
OT72 11/7 Stewart
OT71 11/8 Douglas
OT70 11/23 White
OT69 10/29 per curiam (1st signed argued opn was 12/8)
OT68 10/15 Black
OT67 11/6 Douglas, Stewart
OT66 11/7 Douglas
OT65 11/8 Brennan, White
OT64 11/9 Douglas
OT63 11/12 Harlan, 2 PCs
OT62 11/5 Goldberg, per curiam
OT61 11/6 Clark, per curiam
OT60 11/7 Warren, Black, Brennan
OT59 11/7 per curiam
OT58 11/10 per curiam
OT57 11/12 Douglas, per curiam
OT56 11/5 Warren
OT55 10/17 per curiam decree (original jurisdiction case); first “opinion” 11/7 by Black
OT54 11/8 Warren, Frankfurter, Minton
OT53 11/9 Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Minton, per curiam
OT52 11/10 Black (2 opinions), Douglas (2 opinions), Jackson, Minton
OT51 11/5 Vinson, Douglas, Jackson, 2 PCs
OT50 11/6 Frankfurter, Minton
OT49 11/7 Reed, Jackson (2 opinions), Burton, Clark, Minton, 2 PCs
OT48 10/21 per curiam
OT47 11/10 Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson
OT46 11/18 Black, Douglas, Jackson