March 25, 2011

A month without any Supreme Court opinions

The Supreme Court won’t be filing any opinions this Monday. That day will mark four weeks without a new high court opinion, an unusually long drought except for the times following the court’s no-oral-argument summers.

The explanation is Justice Carlos Moreno’s retirement and his decision to not accept an assignment as a pro tem justice after his retirement date. Apparently not wanting to either file any opinions with just six justices or to have any re-arguments, the court temporarily shifted into overdrive, filing opinions — before Moreno left the court — in every pending case in which Moreno had heard oral argument.

In the 46 days up to and including Moreno’s last day on the job, the court filed 25 opinions, including 17 in the last 28 days and 4 on the very last day. For the last four cases in which Moreno heard argument (on February 8), the court filed opinions just 14 days (one case) and 20 days (three cases) after argument.

After the flurry of filings, the court now has only seven cases pending after argument, the ones heard on March 8 and 9. The court will now probably return to a more normal opinion-filing schedule.

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