How Many Decisions Can We Expect in 2020-21?

Around this time in recent years, SCOWstats has ventured an estimate of the number of decisions that the justices would file once a term had run its course at the end of July.  Looming over the preparation of this year’s estimate is the question of whether the justices would rebound from their near-historic low of 45 decisions filed in 2019-20—and the answer is clearly “yes.”  They will not, however, reach the level of 60, which the following graph indicates is their approximate ceiling over the past decade.[1]

Through May 23 of this year, the court has filed decisions in 30 cases.  Oral argument has been held in 23 additional cases (listed below), and the experience of recent terms suggests that decisions in all of these are likely by July.[2]  In order to maintain consistency with the graph, we will also count Portage County v. E. R. R.—a deadlocked per curiam decision—which brings the total number of decisions that could be filed to 54.  This appears to be the maximum for 2020-21, as the other cases pending on the court’s calendar have not reached oral argument, and the court has not scheduled any more oral arguments this term.

Although the graph provides a rough idea of how the total of 54 decisions compares with the court’s output in years gone by, we can also view this by calculating the average number of decisions per term in each of the last four decades.  During the first decade (1980-81 through 1989-90), the justices averaged 97 decisions per term.  In the second decade their average dropped to 80 decisions per term, where it remained for the third decade as well.  However, during the fourth decade (2010-11 through 2019-20) it fell to 54 decisions per term—which, as it happens, is our estimate for 2020-21.

Thus, as we settle into the 21st century, it seems increasingly clear that the court’s new normal for an annual yield resides in the 50s, with a ceiling not much above 60 and a floor—no longer surprising—in the 40s.

[1] The figures omit orders pertaining to various motions, petitions, and disciplinary matters, but they do include deadlocked (3-3) per curiam decisions.  Cases dismissed as improvidently granted are excluded.

[2] The following cases are past oral argument and awaiting decisions:
Cheyne Monroe v. Chad Chase
City of Mayville v. Dept. of Administration
Clean Wisconsin, Inc. v. DNR [2018AP59]

Clean Wisconsin, Inc. v. DNR [2016AP1688 and 2016AP2502)]
Eau Claire County Department of Human Services v. S. E.
Kathy Schwab v. Paul Schwab
Kemper Independence Ins. Co. v. Ismet Islami
Ronald L. Collison v. City of Milwaukee Bd. of Review
Sara Lindsey James v. Janel Heinrich
Southport Commons, LLC v. Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Southwest Airlines Co. v. Wis. Dept. of Revenue
St. Ambrose Academy, Inc. v. Joseph T. Parisi
St. Augustine School v. Carolyn Stanford Taylor
State v. Adam W. Vice
State v. Alan M. Johnson
State v. Anthony M. Schmidt
State v. Dawn M. Prado
State v. George Steven Burch
State v. Heather Jan VanBeek
State v. Jacob Richard Beyer
State v. James Timothy Genous
State v. Jordan Alexander Lickes
WCRIS v. Janel Heinrich

About Alan Ball

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

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 95 years.

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