KQED broadcast an extensive interview with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye last week.  Not surprisingly, talk turned to the Supreme Court’s long standing vacancy.  (Today is the 552nd day since Justice Kathryn Werdegar announced her retirement that Governor Jerry Brown has not named her replacement.)  In addition to saying — for probably the umpteenth time — that she’d like to see an appointment “soon,” the Chief Justice discussed how the court is coping with being chronically shorthanded.

Besides having scores of cases decided with temporary justices (see here and here), Cantil-Sakauye said that “we continue to assign cases to the vacant chamber.”  (Around 25:35 of the interview.)

This got my attention.  I envisioned some fully briefed cases languishing without being worked on, while all others progressed along the decision-making conveyor belt toward oral argument and opinion.  It’s one thing to have the court’s cases delayed in general because there’s one fewer justice, but it’s another to have a select number of cases sidetracked entirely, stalled until the court is back at full strength.

Not to worry.  Jake Dear — the court’s chief supervising attorney — explained in an email to At The Lectern that “there is likely a drop in overall productivity” with only six justices, but the cases assigned to the chambers of the new justice — whoever he or she may be — are not delayed more than others.  The cases the Chief Justice was talking about are some in which the court has recently granted review and are at the start of the briefing process.  Dear said this has been going on because “the Chief wanted the new justice to have some new cases and to maintain a balance in the caseloads of the seven justices.”  He assured that “the Chief will continue to monitor and adjust that process in order guard against excessive delay.”