In the past, the Supreme Court would typically have significantly heavier oral argument calendars at the end of the term than during the rest of the year. (E.g., here.) Those calendars — in early-May, late-May, and June — come before the argument-less months of July and August.
Things changed in 2016-2017, however. This year’s end-of-term calendars were considerably smaller than before. (E.g., here.) The change is expected to stay in place going forward.
But this doesn’t mean the court will be hearing fewer cases overall. In fact, the court heard more cases this term than in 2015-2016.
The difference is the product of changes to the court’s internal procedures. Jake Dear, the court’s chief supervising attorney, told At The Lectern that the court is now intentionally spreading things out for quality control purposes. The court is equalizing not just its oral argument sessions, but its work in general. Because cases are decided within 90 days of argument, heavy end-of-term calendars required much more time over the summer than usual to prepare opinions, leaving less time for the court to get cases ready for the next term’s initial calendars. “The cupboards were kind of bare in the fall,” Dear said. The uneven calendars also put stresses on the internal review process.
Within the next few weeks, the court should announce its September calendar. Which cases and how many are on the calendar could be affected if the court is shorthanded because Justice Kathryn Werdegar’s replacement has not been named and sworn in; the court might want to avoid cases that could end in a 4-3 decision with a pro tem justice in the majority. But, otherwise, look for a more even number of cases argued each month.