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