SCOCAblog, the online publication of the California Constitution Center at Berkeley Law and of the Hastings Law Journal, takes a detailed look at the California Supreme Court in 2022.

Among other things, the blog quantifies the decline in the number of court opinions of late. [Related: “What’s ailing the California Supreme Court? Its productivity has plummeted”.] It also discusses possible reasons for the decline and whether an increase in output is necessarily a good goal.

Regarding the causes of fewer opinions, SCOCAblog mentions this At The Lectern post that reported on the court’s 2015 policy change of significantly increasing the number of grant-and-holds in criminal cases. Our post said the change “might add a bit to the Supreme Court’s workload because the court will need to evaluate the appropriate disposition for more grant-and-hold cases.”

SCOCAblog agrees and reports that “the court’s grant-and-hold docket exploded” after 2015 (while straight grants “are trending down”). It also posits, “Increased use of grant-and-hold may be driving opinion output down by creating more work (not reflected in opinions) in the form of more internal memos to process the multiple held cases associated with a lead case. On a court where the number of judges and staff attorneys remains static, more work equals slower and reduced output.”

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to assess how the grant-and-hold policy change has affected the number of opinions. My guess is that the change hasn’t had a substantial impact on opinion production. I still think increasing the number of criminal case grant-and-holds adds “a bit” to the court’s workload, but I now refine that speculation with the assumption that the additional burden is not evenly distributed.

More criminal case grant-and-holds probably means considerably more work for the criminal central staff (see here), but not for the rest of the court. Civil and capital central staffs (see here and here) apparently deal with a small number or no grant-and-holds, respectively. Also, while the justices themselves and their chambers attorneys might have some increased work in determining which criminal cases to grant and hold and deciding dispositions for those case that are grant-and-holds, it could be just “a bit” of an increase because they likely rely to a large extent on criminal central staff analyses. And I’m thinking that the “bit” of an increase neither inhibits the court from granting review in any case nor appreciably slows the opinion drafting process.


The Supreme Court doesn’t decide all important issues