Bold Justice: Reversal rates edition

Welcome to the August 3 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S. Don’t want to check out while SCOTUS is on recess? Keep up with the latest news by following us on Twitter or subscribing to the Daily Brew.
The Supreme Court finished its 2019-2020 term on July 9. The court agreed to hear arguments in 74 cases, but heard arguments in only 61 cases due to the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ 2019-2020 term.

Opinion authorship

The court released 53 signed opinions, meaning the authorship was indicated. Some opinions are per curiam, or unsigned.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the most opinions this term. Justices Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh all wrote more opinions in the 2018-19 term than in the 2019-2020 term. However, the court heard fewer arguments in 2019-2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The chart below indicates the number and types of opinions each justice wrote during the 2019-2020 term. Justice Roberts and Gorsuch wrote the most opinions with seven each. Justices Thomas, Breyer, and Sotomayor wrote the least, with five opinions each.

5-4 decisions

The court issued 13 5-4 or 5-3 decisions, which was 21% of the total opinions released. Those decisions were made by four different configurations of justices. In 69% of these decisions, the five justices appointed by Republican presidents (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) made up the majority. In the rest, a Republican appointee joined the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) to reach a majority.

Since the 2005-2006 term, 21% of the opinions released in a term were 5-4 opinions. The court had the highest percentage of 5-4 opinions in the 2006-2007 term (33%) and the lowest percentage of 5-4 opinions in the 2015-2016 term (5%).

Reversal rates

Since 2007, SCOTUS has released opinions in 993 cases. Of those, it reversed a lower court decision 696 times (70.1%) while affirming a lower court decision 289 times (29%). Eight of the 993 cases were original jurisdiction, meaning the U.S. Supreme Court was the only court to hear that case. These cases cannot affirm or reverse a lower court ruling.

Click here for more information on SCOTUS reversal rates from 2007 to the present.

SCOTUS issued opinions in 69 cases* during the 2019-2020 term. It reversed 46 lower court decisions (66.7%) and affirmed 23. This term’s reversal rate was 3.4 percentage points lower than the average rate of reversal since 2007 (70.1%).

*Ballotpedia uses data provided by SCOTUSblog. SCOTUSblog counts some consolidated cases as separate opinions because of the way the opinions impact lower court rulings.

Since 2007, SCOTUS has decided more cases originating from the 9th Circuit (191) than from any other circuit. The court decided the second-most cases from the 2nd Circuit (73). During that span, SCOTUS overturned a greater number of cases originating from the 9th Circuit (149, or 78%), but it overturned a higher percentage of cases originating in the 6th Circuit (55 of 69 cases, or 79.7%).

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

The justices are on summer recess. Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • August 3: SCOTUS will release summer order lists. Summer order lists consist of court actions on motions in pending cases, petitions for rehearing, and other matters.
  • August 24: SCOTUS will release summer order lists.
  • September 11: SCOTUS will release summer order lists.

Confirmations

The Senate has confirmed two new nominees since our July 13 issue.

Since January 2017, the Senate has confirmed 202 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—145 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.

Nominations

President Trump has not announced any new Article III nominees since our July 13 edition.

The president has announced 262 Article III judicial nominations since taking office January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.

Vacancies

The federal judiciary currently has 79 vacancies. As of publication, there were 49 pending nominations.

According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, an additional three judges have announced their intention to leave active judicial status during Trump’s first term.

For more information on judicial vacancies during Trump’s first term, click here.

Committee action

The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported 11 new nominees out of committee since our July 13 edition.

  • John Holcomb, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
  • Brett Ludwig, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
  • Shireen Matthews, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
  • Todd Robinson, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
  • Christy Wiegand, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
  • David Dugan, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
  • Hala Jarbou, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
  • Iain Johnston, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
  • Stephen McGlynn, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
  • Franklin Valderrama, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
  • Roderick Young, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Do you love judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? We figured you might. Our monthly Federal Vacancy Count, published at the start of each month, monitors all the faces and places moving in, moving out, and moving on in the federal judiciary. Click here for our most current count.

Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.

Or, if you prefer, we also maintain a list of individuals President Trump has nominated.


We’ll be back on August 10 with a new edition of Bold Justice.



About the author

Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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