How Likely Is It That the First Question in a Civil Case Comes From a Justice Writing the Majority, a Concurrence or a Dissent?

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Today, we turn our analysis of the Illinois Supreme Court’s oral arguments between 2008 and 2016 to a new question: how likely is it that the Justice who asks the first question in a civil case is writing an opinion?

In Table 433 below, we report the percentage of instances in civil cases in which each Justice asked the first question of appellant and was writing the majority, a special concurrence, or a dissent. For example, on twenty-three occasions, Justice Burke asked the first question of appellant, and wound up writing the majority opinion. Twice she wrote a concurrence, and five times she dissented. In comparison, she led off the questioning of appellant yet didn’t write an opinion in thirty-one cases. Justice Thomas most frequently asked the first question with 124. Justice Freeman was next at 45, followed by Justice Freeman at 38 and Justice Theis at 35. Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion and led off questioning of the appellant 29 times. Justice Burke was second at 23, followed by Justice Theis at 18. Justice Freeman was the most frequent dissenter, leading off the questioning of appellants and writing a dissent in eight cases to Justice Thomas’ seven.

Overall, when Justice Burke asked the first question of appellants, she wrote an opinion 49.18% of the time. Justice Karmeier was second, writing an opinion 47.37% of the time when he led off. Justice Theis was third at 38.6%. Justice Garman was fourth at 29.63%. This measure was the least powerful for two of the most active questioners on the Court. Justice Thomas wrote in 23.46% of cases when he led off to the appellants, and Chief Justice Fitzgerald wrote in 23.08% of cases. No Justice was under 20%, and courtwide, the first questioner to appellants wrote an opinion in 31.07% of cases.

Table 433

So what about appellees? Justice Thomas led, writing the majority twen ty-two times when he asked the first question of appellees. Only two other Justices were in double figures – Justice Garman at 12 and Justice Burke at 10. Justices Garman and Freeman led in dissents, with each writing six dissents in cases where they began the questioning. Overall, 71 times the first question to an appellee came from the author of the majority opinion. Seventeen times, it came from the author of a dissent.

We report the percentages in Table 434. Three Justices – Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Burke and Thomas – are more likely to be writing when they ask the first question of appellant than when they lead off with the appellee. For the other four Justices, lead-off to the appellee is a more powerful predictor of writing an opinion – often by ten to twenty percentage points. Justice Kilbride wrote an opinion in 41.18% of cases where he led off questioning of appellee. Justice Theis was right behind at 40.91%, and Justice Garman was at 39.13%. Three more Justices were tightly bunched right behind Justice Garman – Chief Justice Fitzgerald at 36.36%, Chief Justice Karmeier at 36% and Justice Freeman at 35.48%. Courtwide, the likelihood in civil cases that the first question to appellees came from a Justice writing an opinion was 31.33%.

Table 434

Join us back here tomorrow when we look at the Court’s oral arguments in criminal cases.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Ryan Van Etten (no changes).

Do More Questions at Oral Argument Mean a Longer Majority Opinion (Part 2 – Criminal Docket)?

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Yesterday, we investigated whether a more active bench at oral argument in civil cases suggested that the majority opinion would be longer.  Today, we look at the same question on the criminal side of the docket by tracking the correlation between total questions and the length of the majority opinion.
We report the data for the criminal docket in Table 432 below.  Although we get the expected sign on the correlation in almost all years on the criminal side – more questions do typically imply a longer majority opinion – the correlation is no greater, and sometimes less than it is on the civil side.  So it appears that a more active bench does not necessarily imply a longer opinion.

For 2008, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was 0.31.  Among unanimous decisions, it was 0.22. For 2009, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was -0.28.  Among unanimous decisions, it was 0.31.  For 2010, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was 0.33.  Among unanimous cases, it dropped to nearly nothing (and would remain there for four of the next five years) at 0.1.  For 2011, the correlation between questions and length in non-unanimous cases was 0.35.  On the unanimous side, it was 0.16.  For 2012, the correlation in non-unanimous cases was 0.13.  For unanimous decisions, it was 0.03.  For 2013, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was 0.3.  Among unanimous decisions, it was 0.16.  For 2014, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was 0.37.  Among unanimous cases, it rose to 0.27.  For 2015, the correlation among non-unanimous decisions was -0.52.  Among unanimous cases, it was 0.16.  And last year, the correlation among non-unanimous decisions was nearly nothing at -0.11.  For unanimous decisions, it was 0.44.

Table 432

Join us back here next Tuesday as we turn our attention to a new question.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Mark Goebel (no changes).

Do More Questions at Oral Argument Mean a Longer Majority Opinion (Part 1 – Civil Docket)?

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Last week, we analyzed whether a more active bench at oral argument suggests that the case is likely to be under submission longer.  We found that there was no consistent, strong correlation between total questions and days under submission, either on the civil or criminal side.

This week, we ask a different question: does a more active bench mean that the majority opinion is likely to be longer?  One might expect the answer to be yes – a case with many difficult issues might be expected to generate both a lot of questions from the bench and require a lot of pages to resolve.

We begin with the oral arguments in civil cases from 2008 to 2016.  We calculate the correlation between total questions and the length of the majority opinion.  If a more active bench does usually result in a longer opinion, we would expect a positive correlation of, say, 0.5 to 1.0.

We report the results in Table 431 below, divided between non-unanimous and unanimous decisions.  The results suggest that there is no positive strong link between how active the Court is at oral argument and the length of the majority opinion.  Indeed, for five of the nine years, both on the non-unanimous and the unanimous decisions side of the ledger, the correlation has been negative – meaning that a more active bench is associated with a shorter opinion.  At times, the correlation has been comparatively high, either in the positive or negative directions; at other times, it’s been virtually nothing.  For 2008, the correlation between questions and opinion length for non-unanimous cases was -0.61.  For unanimous decisions, it was 0.33.  The following year, non-unanimous cases were 0.06, and unanimous decisions were -0.11.  For 2010, the correlation among non-unanimous decisions was 0.38.  For unanimous decisions, it was 0.47.  For 2011, the correlation on the non-unanimous side was 0.56.  But among unanimous decisions, it was -0.13.  For 2012, the correlation on the non-unanimous side had changed signs again, going to -0.32.  On the unanimous side, it was -0.23.  In 2013, the correlation for non-unanimous decisions was -0.3.  For unanimous decisions, it was -0.1.  In 2014, the correlation remained quite low on both sides – non-unanimous, -0.14, unanimous decisions 0.04.  In 2015, the correlation for non-unanimous decisions was -0.27.  For unanimous decisions, it was 0.29.  Finally, last year, the correlation between total questions and opinion length was relatively strong for non-unanimous opinions – 0.7.  But for unanimous opinions, it was nearly nil at -0.09.

Table 431

Join us back here tomorrow as we turn our attention to the data for the Court’s criminal decisions.

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Ohmer (no changes).

Do More Questions Mean a Longer Wait for the Opinion in Criminal Cases?

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Yesterday, we investigated whether more questions at oral argument meant a longer wait for the opinion by tracking the correlation between total questions and lag time.  Today, we apply the same test to the Court’s criminal cases.

We report the correlation between days from the oral argument to decision and total number of questions in criminal cases in Table 430 below.  In contrast to the civil side, the correlation is for the most part in the expected direction – more questions equals more days under submission, not fewer.  And the correlations are at least a bit higher on the criminal side than they are on the civil side.

In 2008, both correlations are negative: more questions means a quicker decision.  For non-unanimous criminal cases, the correlation was a moderately strong -0.64, and for unanimous decisions, the correlation was a weak -0.13.  In 2009, non-unanimous decisions had a positive correlation of 0.35, and unanimous decisions had a nearly equal figure – 0.34.  In 2010, both numbers had turned negative again.  Non-unanimous decisions had a correlation of -0.57, while unanimous decisions had a tiny correlation of -0.11.  In 2011, non-unanimous decisions had a correlation of 0.46, to 0.41 for unanimous decisions.  In 2012, both correlations were tiny: 0.31 on the non-unanimous side, only 0.11 on the unanimous side.  The next year, the correlations got even smaller.  On the non-unanimous side, the correlation was 0.28, and 0.1 on the unanimous side.  In 2014, correlations for non-unanimous cases were quite strong at 0.62.  Correlations among unanimous decisions were much smaller at 0.27.  In 2015, the correlation between non-unanimous cases and total questions was only 0.4.  The correlation on the unanimous side was 0.2.  Last year, the correlation on the non-unanimous side was at least somewhat strong at 0.53.  But the correlation on the unanimous side had turned in an unexpected direction again at -0.1.

Table 430

Join us back here next Tuesday as we take another step in our study of the Court’s oral arguments.

Image courtesy of Flickr by JFXie (no changes).

Do More Questions Mean a Longer Wait for the Opinion in Civil Cases?

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For several weeks, we’ve been evaluating what we can infer from the pattern of the Illinois Supreme Court’s questions in civil and criminal cases.  This week, we turn to a new question: does an active bench mean you’ll be waiting a longer time for the opinion?  One can easily imagine that the answer might be yes.  If heavy questioning from the Court suggests that the Justices are having difficulty with some point in the argument, a great many questions might mean a particularly long wait for the opinion.

We’ve already measured the average number of questions directed each year to both sides of the argument, and the average time under submission.  But absolute numbers aren’t the tools of predictive analytics: correlations are.  So is there a correlation between total questions in civil cases and the number of days from argument to decision?  Recall that if two numbers move in the same direction perfectly together – 2, 4, 8 and 4, 8, 16, for example – the correlation is positive one.  If the variables move in perfect sync, but in opposite directions – more of this equals a proportionally less amount of that – then the correlation is negative one.  So does the correlation between total questions in civil oral arguments from 2008 to 2016 and the total days from argument to decision suggest that more questions means a longer wait?

We report the data in Table 429 below.  We notice two things immediately about our data: first, correlations are comparatively small, and second, the sign keeps changing, suggesting no stable relationship between total questions in civil cases and days under submission.  We measure eighteen variables in the chart – a correlation for non-unanimous and unanimous decisions for each of nine years – but only three times did the correlation exceed 0.5.  For 2008, more questions meant less time under submission, regardless of whether the Court was divided or not.  For non-unanimous cases, the correlation was -0.066, and for unanimous cases, the correlation was -0.4.  For 2009, the correlation for non-unanimous cases turned positive, but was very small: 0.04.  Unanimous cases had a correlation of -0.28.  For 2010, the correlations were still opposite to the sign our theory leads us to expect: for non-unanimous cases, the correlation is a moderately large -0.58, and for unanimous cases, the correlation is a small (and negative) -0.17.  For 2011, both sides of the civil docket had turned in the expected direction – for non-unanimous cases, the correlation was 0.37, and for unanimous cases, the correlation was 0.2.  For 2012, the correlation among non-unanimous cases was just a bit bigger, at 0.41, but for unanimous cases, it had turned negative again, at -0.22.

Over the past three years, the relationship between total questions in civil cases and days under submission has been weak, and often the reverse of what we expect.  In 2013, non-unanimous cases had a correlation of 0.33, but unanimous decisions had a correlation of -0.23.  In 2014, both measures were negative – non-unanimous cases had a strong correlation of -0.78, and unanimous decisions had a correlation of -0.12.  For 2015, both correlations were quite small: non-unanimous cases had a correlation between questions and lag time of -0.2.  Unanimous decisions had a correlation of only 0.05.  Last year, the correlation for non-unanimous cases was relatively strong at 0.71.  The correlation between questions and lag time for unanimous decisions was -0.3.

Table 429

Join us back here tomorrow as we review the numbers of the criminal side of the docket.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Normalityrelief (no changes).

Does Heavier Questioning of One Side Suggest Unanimity in Criminal Cases?

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Yesterday, we continued our ongoing analysis of the Court’s oral arguments by looking at whether the margin in number of questions between the parties tended to be larger when the Court was unanimous. We theorized that such an effect might be the result of the entire Court concentrating on one side, as opposed to evenly divided cases where the majority focuses on the side they’re voting against and the minority focuses on their opponents. We concluded that there was at least some support for the notion that margins in questions tend to be a bit bigger when the Court is unanimous.  Today, we turn to the Court’s criminal docket between 2008 and 2015.

On the civil side, we saw only a minor inclination towards more lopsided questioning in unanimous cases.  On the criminal side, we see no evidence for such an inclination.  Unanimous cases have had a higher margin of questions four of the eight years, and non-unanimous cases have had the higher margin four of the eight years.  In 2008, the average margin in questions on the unanimous side was 13.69 to only four among non-unanimous decisions.  In 2009, the average margin on the unanimous side was 11.46, to 9.1 on the non-unanimous side.  In 2010, the unanimous average was 13.35, to 12.36 on the non-unanimous side.

But then, we see four straight years where non-unanimous questions had the more imbalanced questioning.  In 2011, non-unanimous cases had an average margin of 15.4 to 11.08 on the unanimous side. In 2012, non-unanimous cases averaged 14.2 to 9.09 on the unanimous side. In 2013, the non-unanimous average was 8.23 to 5.28 on the unanimous side.  In 2014, non-unanimous cases averaged a difference of 9.14 questions, to 8.67 for unanimous decisions.  Not until 2015 did the sides flip again, as unanimous cases averaged a difference of 6.85 questions to 5.0 on the non-unanimous side.

Table 428

Join us back here next Tuesday as we take up another question in our continuing analysis of the Court’s oral arguments.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Vxla (no changes).

 

 

 

Does Heavier Questioning of One Side Suggest Unanimity in Civil Cases?

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a close look at what can be learned from the Illinois Supreme Court’s oral arguments since 2008.  We’ve shown that the Court tends to ask slightly more questions of appellants in civil cases, and definitely averages more questions to appellants in criminal cases.  We’ve disproven the common claim that the Court averages many more questions in civil than in criminal cases.  We’ve shown that disagreement on the Court doesn’t produce a larger total number of questions, and we’ve shown that not only is the more heavily questioned side likely to lose, as the margin between questions to one side and the other increases, the odds of the more heavily questioned party winning drop like a rock.

Today, we test a different hypothesis.  If questioning from oral argument indicates a Justice’s disquiet with your position – which is one interpretation of the result that the loser gets more questions – then perhaps we can expect the difference between one side’s total questions and the other’s to be higher in unanimous decisions.  If a case is closely divided, questioning might be as well: the majority questions the party which will eventually lose, but the minority questions the eventual winner.  But if a decision is unanimous, everyone on the Court is concentrating their questions on the same party – the party who’s in trouble.

So: does the difference in total questions between one side and the other tend to be higher in unanimous decisions?

There is at least some evidence that the answer is yes for civil cases.  In 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015, the margin between the sides was greater in unanimous than in non-unanimous decisions.  In 2008, the margin for unanimous decisions was 12.61 questions; for non-unanimous, it was 11.5.  In 2010, the sides were close – 7.54 for unanimous, 7.33 for non-unanimous.  In 2011, unanimous cases had a margin of 11.63 to 6.11 for non-unanimous cases.  In 2014, unanimous cases had an average margin of 10.37 questions to only 4.33 in non-unanimous cases.  And in 2015, the margin was 9.06 in unanimous cases, only 5 questions in non-unanimous ones.

In only three years was the margin greater in non-unanimous cases: 2009, 2012 and 2013.  In 2009, the average margin in unanimous cases was 8.72 to 15 in non-unanimous cases.  In 2012, the margin in unanimous decisions was 8.81 to 10.17 in non-unanimous decisions.  And in 2013, the margin for unanimous decisions was 8.8 to 10.14 in non-unanimous decisions.

Table 427

Join us back here tomorrow morning as we look at the data for criminal cases.

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Wilson (no changes).

What Are the Odds Against You if You Get More Questions in a Criminal Oral Argument?

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Yesterday, we compared the average level of questioning in civil cases since 2008 for winning and losing appellants, and winning and losing appellees, year by year, showing that in nearly every year, losing parties averaged more questions than winners.  Then we calculated the odds of winning, based upon the comparison between how many questions you get, and how many your opponent got.  Today, we turn our attention to the same measurements on the criminal side of the docket.

Comparing winning and losing parties on the criminal side, the result is the same – in the past eight years, only once have winning parties averaged more questions than losing parties.  And winning appellees – frequently, but not always, the State – often average significantly fewer questions than appellees who are in trouble.  In 2008, winning appellants averaged 16.47 questions in criminal cases to 23.08 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged 8.25, losing appellees 15.88.  In 2009, winning appellants averaged 16.85 questions to 19.05 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged 11.75 questions to 16.19 for losing ones.  In 2010, winning appellants averaged 14.41 questions; appellants who lost averaged 22.97.  Winning appellees averaged 7.83 questions; appellees who lost got 17 questions.  In 2011, winning appellants averaged 15.42 questions to 22.1 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees got only 8.1 questions; losing ones got 17.63.  In 2012, winning appellants averaged 11 questions.  Losing appellants averaged 20.53.  Winning appellees averaged 8.47 to 15.44 for appellees who lost.  In 2013, for the first time, winning appellants were slightly busier than ones who lost – 12.24 to 11.71.  Winning appellees that year averaged 7.24 questions to 13.86 for losing appellees.  In 2014, winning appellants averaged 10.93 questions to 15.3 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged 10.55 questions to 12 for losing appellees.  Last year, winning appellants averaged 10.05 questions to 12.6 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees were at their lowest level of the period, averaging only 3.7 questions.  Losing appellees averaged 8.18.

Table 425

So what’s the bottom line?  Just how long are the odds against you if you get more questions than your opponent?  Interestingly, the result is fairly similar to the civil side.

Appellants who get 10+ fewer questions than their opponents win 89.47% of the time between 2008 and 2015.  Appellees who get 10+ fewer win 74.22% of their cases.  Appellants who get 1-9 fewer questions win 71.88% of the time.  Appellees who get 1-9 fewer questions win less than half their cases – 47.83%.  Appellants have won two thirds of the cases where questions were exactly equal.  When an appellant gets 1-9 questions more than the appellee, appellants win 52.17% of the time.  But appellees win only 28.13% of the time under those circumstances.  If you get 10+ more questions than your oppoonent, you’re facing long odds – 25.77% of appellants win under those circumstances to 10.53% of appellees.

Table 426

Join us back here next Tuesday as we turn our attention to a new area in our study of the Court’s oral arguments.

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Wilson (no changes).

The Paradox of an Active Bench at Oral Argument

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All appellate specialists, without exception, prefer a “hot bench” at oral argument.  The sole reason for you to be there is to find out what, if anything, is troubling the Court about your case, and try to answer their concerns.  But the paradox of a hot bench is this: as I told an interviewer a few weeks ago, getting more questions than your opponent means you’re probably losing.  That’s been the unanimous conclusion of the academic research done on oral argument, and that’s what our research on the Illinois Supreme Court shows too.

In Table 423, we report the data for arguments in civil cases from 2008 through 2015.  We divide winning and losing appellants, and winning and losing appellees, year by year.  In that eight year period, winning appellants averaged more questions than losing appellants exactly once.  Winning appellees have never averaged more questions than losing appellees.

For 2008, winning appellants averaged 19.3 questions at argument to 18.89 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged only 12.22 questions, while losing appellees got 22.27.  For 2009, appellants averaged 19.75 (winning) and 20.64 (losing), and appellees averaged 11 (winning) and 17.71 (losing).  For 2010 and 2011, the difference for appellants grew a bit, with winners averaging five fewer questions (17.26 to 22.21 in 2010, 15.24 to 20.56 in 2011).  Winning appellees were only slightly less busy in 2010 – 12.36 to 14.32, but much less so the next year (7.89 questions for winners, 18 for losing appellees).  In 2012, winning appellants averaged 15 questions to 17.11 for losing appellants.  The difference on the appellees’ side was much bigger – 9.44 for winners, 18.07 for losing appellees.  In 2013, winning appellants averaged 13.63 questions to 17.67 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged 7.87 questions to 10.42 for losing appellees.  In 2014, winning appellants averaged 15.25 questions to 23.4 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged only 10.10 questions to 14.75 for losing appellees.  Last year, questioning was somewhat down across the board.  Winning appellants had 7.96 questions on average to 12.08 for losing appellants.  Winning appellees averaged 6.05 questions to 12.48 for losing appellees.

Table 423

So what’s the bottom line – how long are the odds facing someone who gets more questions at oral argument?

Pretty long, as we show in Table 424 – especially for appellees.  An appellant who gets fewer questions than his or her opponent is likely in pretty good shape.  Appellants who received between one and nine questions fewer than his or her opponent won 84.51% of the time in civil cases.  When the appellant got ten fewer questions or above, the appellant prevailed 92.31% of the time.  An appellee getting fewer questions is a bit less of a lock.  Appellees getting 10+ fewer questions won 68.83% of their cases, and appellees getting 1-9 fewer questions won only 43.04% of the time.  Of course, the data when each side got more questions is the inverse of this.  Appellants who got 1-9 more questions won 56.96% of the time, and appellants who got 10+ more questions won 31.17% of the time.  Appellees who got 1-9 more questions won only 15.49% of the time, and 10+ more questions resulted in an appellee’s win only 7.69% of the time.  What about when questioning was evenly split?  Well, it’s only happened nine times on the civil side in eight years, but to date, appellants have won 77.78% of those cases.

Table 424

Join us back here tomorrow as we’ll take a look at the same measurements for the criminal docket.

Image courtesy of Flickr by David Wilson (no changes).

Does Disagreement on the Court Produce Oral Argument Questions in Criminal Cases?

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Yesterday, we looked for evidence that questioning at oral argument is driven by a desire to persuade a Justice’s colleagues by comparing the average questions to each side in non-unanimous versus unanimous decisions on the civil docket. Today, we repeat the comparison, looking at the Court’s criminal cases between 2008 and 2015. On the criminal side, we find slightly more evidence that disagreement on the Court drives heavier questioning – but only a bit more.

Appellants in criminal cases received more questions in non-unanimous cases than in unanimous cases in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.  Appellees in non-unanimous criminal cases received more questions than in unanimous cases in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  In 2008, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 21 questions to 19.04 in unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 17.67 questions to 11.7 in unanimous cases.  In 2009, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 18.64 questions to 16.95 for unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 11.27 questions to 14.82 for unanimous cases.  In 2010, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 17.85 questions to 18.51 in unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 16.69 questions to 10.22 in unanimous cases.  In 2011, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 23.7 questions to 17.47 in unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 8.3 questions to 15.17 in unanimous cases.  In 2012, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 23 questions to only 11.7 for appellants in unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 14.6 questions to 10.48 questions for appellees in unanimous cases.  In 2013, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 17 questions to 10.4 in non-unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 13.38 questions to 9.6 questions for unanimous cases.  In 2014, appellants in non-unanimous cases averaged 9.86 questions to 14.44 for unanimous cases.  Appellees in non-unanimous cases averaged 16.71 questions to 9.7 questions in unanimous cases.  Last year, appellants in non-unanimous criminal cases averaged 10 questions per argument to 11.04 for appellants in unanimous decisions.  Appellees in non-unanimous criminal cases averaged only 5 questions per argument; appellees in unanimous decisions averaged 7.19 questions.

Table 422

Join us back here next Tuesday as we turn our attention to a new question in comparing the Court’s oral arguments in civil and criminal cases.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Richie Diesterheft (no changes).

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