For the past several weeks, we’ve been comparing the data on the number and sequence of the Illinois Supreme Court’s questions at oral argument to various variables, searching for possible predictors of particularly active oral arguments. This week, we’ll be asking whether the area of law involved in a case impacts the level of questioning.
In Table 437, we report the average questions to appellants and appellees in civil cases between 2008 and 2016, divided by the principal area of law involved in each case. The most active bench with respect to appellants – leaving aside the small groups of contract cases (25.67 questions per case) and election law cases (24.14 questions per case) – is employment law, where appellants were asked an average of 21.46 questions. Wills and Estates cases averaged 19.43 questions to appellants, and domestic relations, property and public employee pensions were all just behind (18.95, 18.33 and 18.09, respectively). Taxation averaged 17.64 questions to appellants, constitutional law averaged 16.74, and insurance averaged 16.06. Interestingly, three of the most common areas of law on the Court’s docket, tort law, civil procedure and government and administrative law, were less active on the appellant’s side. Tort appellants averaged 14.29 questions, civil procedure appellants averaged 14.64, and government and administrative law appellants averaged 14.36.
In nearly all subjects across the entire nine year period, appellants averaged more total questions than appellees. The only exceptions were in subjects relatively seldom seen on the Court’s docket: secured transactions, workers compensation, corporate law and arbitration. Collectively, appellees in election law cases averaged the most questions at 19.14. Insurance law appellees were next at 15.19. Appellees in corporate, commercial and contracts law were close behind, averaging 15, 14.5 and 14.33 questions, respectively. Among the more frequent subjects on the Court’s docket, constitutional law appellees averaged 13.44 questions. Appellees in tort averaged 13.35 questions. Appellees in civil procedure averaged 12.8. Appellees in employment law averaged 12.69. Appellees in government and administrative law averaged only 10.06 questions. The largest disparity between appellants and appellees came in employment law, where appellants averaged 8.77 questions more than appellees did, and in contracts law, where appellants averaged 11.34 more questions per argument.
We also investigated how scattered questioning was in the Court’s most frequently heard topics – much confident can an advocate be that his or her case will come in somewhere in the neighborhood of the averages set forth below? The standard deviation for questions to appellants in civil procedure cases was 10.2917. For appellees, it was 9.5722. What this shows is that cases can vary relatively widely. There is roughly a 68% chance that an appellant in a civil procedure case will get between four and twenty-four questions – one standard deviation from the mean. Similarly, an appellee in a civil procedure case will likely receive somewhere between 3 and 22 questions.
Other major topics on the Court’s docket varied a bit less. The standard deviation for questions to appellants in constitutional law was 10.3337. To appellees, it was 8.6296. For appellants in government and administrative law cases, the standard deviation was 7.8108. For appellees, it was 9.4779. The spread was less in tort questioning. For appellants, the standard deviation was 7.8222. For appellees, it was 8.2099.
Join us back here tomorrow as we turn our attention to the Court’s criminal docket.