Here’s How Many Cases the Supreme Court Has Yet to Decide

Here’s How Many Cases the Supreme Court Has Yet to Decide

The Supreme Court has been moving at a sluggish pace in issuing decisions this term, entering the second half of June with more than 20 left to go. That is not terribly different from the last two terms, when the pace at which the court issued decisions started to slow.

Over the almost two decades in which Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has led the court, it has on average decided 72 percent of argued cases by this point in the term, according to data compiled by Lee Epstein, a law professor and political scientist at the University of Southern California. The corresponding number for the previous court, led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist from 1986 to 2005, was 78 percent.

But in the last three terms, the court has decided no more than 62 percent of the term’s cases by June 14.

Of the 23 remaining cases, perhaps a dozen of them have the potential to reshape significant parts of American society.

The second theory is that the justices are not getting along very well in the aftermath of the leak of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, the decision itself, the drumbeat of ethics scandals, the announcement of an ethics code that seems toothless and the drop in public respect for the court.

The justices themselves, whose party line has long been that they are a collegial bunch, have let slip a darker view in public appearances.

Soon after the leak, Justice Clarence Thomas said it was “like kind of an infidelity.”

“Look where we are, where that trust or that belief is gone forever,” he said. “And when you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I’m in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder.”

He made a similar point last month, contrasting the current court to earlier ones.

“We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family,” he said of the old days. “And it would be inconceivable that anyone would leak an opinion of the court or do anything to intentionally harm one another.”

In her own remarks last month, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s direction has reduced her to tears.

“There are days that I’ve come to my office after an announcement of a case and closed my door and cried,” she said. “There have been those days. And there are likely to be more.”

On Friday, Justice Sotomayor announced a dissent in a case on a firearms law from the bench, a rare move that signals profound disagreement.

The court has said that it will not issue more decisions until Thursday. It will doubtless add days for decision announcements the last week of June, the court’s self-imposed deadline for finishing its work before the justices’ summer break. But it will be a challenge to issue all of the remaining decisions by then.

The court has only once slipped into July in recent years, in 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic.

The court’s pace has slackened even as the size of its docket in argued cases has dropped to levels not seen in many years.

So far this term, the court has issued 38 decisions in argued cases, and it is on track to issue a total of 61. In the 1980s, it was not unusual for the court to decide 150 cases in a term.

“This is the least hardworking court, as measured by the number of cases, since at least 1937,” Professor Epstein said.

The court has decided a handful of major cases so far: a pair of unanimous decisions allowing former President Donald J. Trump to remain on the ballot and maintaining access to abortion pills, a lopsided rejection of a challenge to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and 6-to-3 rulings on voting and guns.

Two-thirds of the court’s decisions so far have been unanimous. That is characteristic of the Roberts court, which tends to front-load those decisions. If history is any guide, there will be little consensus in the coming weeks.

Still to come:

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