Posner and Landes on Why the Supreme Court Saves the 'Best' Decisions for Last

Why the Supreme Court Saves the 'Best' Decisions for Last

With Monday’s release of orders, the U.S. Supreme Court now shifts gear into the calm before the storm of its annual push to hear a final round of arguments and issue its most controversial opinions before the end of June.

The high court returns to the bench April 20 for two weeks of arguments, including the landmark same-sex marriage cases on April 28. From then until recess at the end of June, the court will be in session mainly on Mondays, churning out decisions.

The end-of-term crunch is so routine that is has gone largely unexamined by scholars. But a new Duke Law Journal article has documented the phenomenon and offered some speculation about why the justices always save their biggest cases until the end of the term. The article is titled, The Best for Last: The Timing of U.S. Supreme Court Decisions.

Examining 7,219 decisions issued by the Supreme Court between the 1946 and 2012 terms, the study found that indeed, the highest-profile decisions of the court take the court longer to decide, and tend to be issued in late June, whether or not they were argued late in the term.

The authors, who include Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, suggest that one reason for delay is that the justices have their reputations and legacies in mind when they write headline-making decisions. They may spend more time polishing high-profile decisions—or having their clerks do so.


Besides Posner, the article's authors are professors Lee Epstein of Washington University in St. Louis and William Landes of the University of Chicago Law School, both longtime court scholars.

Read more at The National Law Journal