Last time, we showed that between 1990 and 1999, as majority opinions in civil cases got substantially shorter, unanimity became significantly more common.  What about the criminal docket?

The effect on the criminal side of the docket was even more noticeable.

In 1990, the average majority opinion in a criminal case was 25.97 pages.  By 1994, the average had decline to 21.05 pages.  The average increased a bit in the following two years, but then dropped sharply, to 16.17 in 1997, 16.54 in 1998 and only 14.45 in 1999.

During the decade, unanimous decisions became significantly more common.  In 1990, only 20.29% of the Court’s criminal decisions were unanimous.  That had fallen to 11.63% by 1992.  But after that, unanimity increased sharply, reaching 45.07% in 1995, 43.1% in 1997 and 59.18% of the Court’s criminal decisions in 1999.

Next week, we’ll turn our attention to the next decade: 2000 to 2009.

Image: The Burning of Chicago lithograph

Image courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of American History  (Creative Commons License)

At the outset of this series of posts, we noted that analytic research has shown a connection between the length of majority opinions and the unanimity rate.  So my next step, now that we’ve reviewed the caseload data from the Appellate Court, will be to compare the unanimity rate to the average length of majority opinions, decade by decade.

As we showed last time, the average length of majority opinions in civil cases in the 1990s was drifting downward – 18.68 pages in 190, 15.94 by 1995 and only 11.9 in 1999.

So did this have an impact on unanimity?

As the table shows, shorter majorities definitely did drive up the unanimity rate for the decade.  In 1990, only 21.59% of the Court’s civil decisions were unanimous.  That was up to 36.84% by 1993, topping out at the end of the decade: 48.33% in 1997, 50% in 1998 and 51.22% in 1999.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the data for criminal cases.

Image: On Chicago River by Walter D. Goldbeck

Image courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum (Creative Commons License)

Today, we’re looking at the data for the criminal docket at the Supreme Court during the 1990s – specifically (1) the total caseload; (2) the total number of pages of majority opinions written and (3) the average length of the Court’s majority opinions in criminal cases.

For the entire decade, the Court decided 611 cases.  The Court filed 13,238 pages of majority opinions.  This comes to an average length of 21.67 pages per majority opinion.

Caseloads on the criminal side were not following a consistent pattern in 1990s, as shown in the Table below.  There were 69 criminal cases in 1990, but 86 in 1992.  There were 62 criminal cases in 1994 and 71 in 1995.  There were 52 criminal cases in 1996, 58 in 1997, 72 in 1998 and only 49 in 1999. Total pages of majority opinions spiked from 1,792 in 1990 to 2,241 in 1992.  By 1995, the Court was back down to 1,570 pages of majority opinions.  This dropped to only 938 pages in 1997 and 708 in the light year of 1999.

Average length of majority opinions was fairly static for the first seven years of the decade: 25.98 pages in 1990; 26.06 pages in 1992; 21.05 in 1994 and 26.15 pages in 1996.  But the average then dropped to 16.17 pages in 1997, 16.54 in 1998 and 14.44 in 1999.

We commented yesterday that one reason why average length of majority opinions is a variable worth following is that longer opinions make dissent significantly more likely.  Next week, we’ll take a look at the data for unanimity at the Court in the 1990s, inquiring whether the slow decrease in opinion length had any impact on the dissent rate.

Join us back here next Tuesday for those posts.

Image courtesy of Pixabay by uroburos (no changes).

This week, we’re turning our attention from the Appellate Court to the Supreme Court’s docket.

We’ll be reviewing three questions in order to analyze the impact of the slow decline in cases at the Appellate Court: (1) did the Supreme Court’s caseload decline? (2) Was the Supreme Court writing less in majority opinions? And (3) Were the Supreme Court’s majority opinions shorter?

I’m asked occasionally why we should care about the length of the Court’s opinions.  There are two reasons.  First, data analysts have demonstrated that the chances of a dissent increase as majority opinions get longer.  Thus, if the Court is writing longer majorities, the chances of splintering the Court’s voice are greater.  Second, as the majority opinions get longer, the Court is deciding more questions.  This not only potentially impacts clients’ interests going forward in the lower courts, but it is of course related to the increased likelihood of dissent.

So, how was the Supreme Court doing in the 1990s?  We begin with the civil cases.

For the entire decade, the Court decided 618 civil cases (an average, of course, of 61.8 cases per year).  There were 9,329 pages of majority opinions filed in these cases – an average of 15.1 pages per majority. The total caseload declined at least a bit during the decade.  The Court decided 88 civil cases in 1990, 89 in 1992 and 72 in 1994.  In the second half of the decade, the numbers were consistently lower: 54 in 1995, 55 in 1996, 60 in 1997, 68 in 1998 and only 41 in 1999.

Majority opinions didn’t increase during the second half of the decade as total caseloads decreased.  The Court filed 1,644 pages in majority opinions in 1990 and 1,468 in 1992.  There were 968 pages in majority opinions in 1994.  Interestingly, although there were only 55 civil cases in 1996, the Court published 989 pages in majority opinions.  But writing declined after that – 718 pages in 1997, 769 in 1998 and only 488 in 1999.

Our final table shows the average length of majority opinions in civil cases during the decade.  The longest opinions were in 1990, when majorities averaged 18.7 pages.  This was down to 15.94 pages by 1995.  After the average ticked up a bit in 1996 to 17.98 pages, it fell sharply to 11.97 in 1997, 11.31 in 1998 and 11.9 in 1999.

Next time, we’ll look at these same metrics for the criminal side of the docket.

Image courtesy of Pixabay by 12019 (no changes).

We’re reviewing the data on declining dockets at the Appellate Court for the years 2011 through 2021 – today, the criminal docket.

Once again – just as with the civil docket – the First District saw the biggest drop from 2011 to 2021, with new criminal filings down 57.8%.  The Second District was next, dropping 48.9%.  After that was the Third District at 43.1%, the Fifth, 41% and with the smallest drop, the Fourth District at 37.1%.

The First District was fairly stable from 2011 at 1683 to 2016 at 1562.  But after that, the large fall-off struck quickly: 1320 new cases in 2017, 1054 in 2018, 976 in 2019, 559 in 2020 and 709 in 2021.

The Second District had 646 new criminal filings in 2011.  That was down to 480 by 2016, but filings stayed steady until 2019 (484).  Things then collapsed – only 331 in 2020 and 330 last year.  The Third District had 444 new criminal filings in 2011.  That was up to 521 by 2014, but things slowed down right after that.  There were 434 new filings in 2015, 381 in 2016, 385 by 2019, but only 273 in 2020 and 253 in 2021.

There were 602 new filings in the Fourth District in 2011.  There were 596 new cases in 2013, but that fell to 503 by 2016.  New filings fell to 471 in 2017, 470 in 2018 and 471 in 2019, but then dropped to 346 in 2020 and 379 in 2021.

There were 239 new criminal filings in 2011.  That had risen to 261 by 2014 and was still at 238 the next year.  After a several-year drop, filings recovered to 230 in 2019, right before the pandemic set in.  But there were only 184 new filings in 2020 and 141 last year.

Next time, we’ll begin looking at the Supreme Court’s data.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Matthew Dillon (no changes).

This week, we complete our review of the docket data from the Appellate Court, covering the years 2011 through 2021.

Below is the data for new civil filings at the Appellate Court.  Filings in the First District were comparatively stable from 2011 through 2015, declining by only 25 new filings overall (from 2134 to 2109).  But filings drifted downward in the years that followed: to 1867 in 2016, 1844 in 2017, 1644 in 2018 and 1637 in 2019.  But of course, the docket completely collapsed in 2020 as the pandemic set in, and the First District saw only 843 new filings in 2020 and 926 new civil filings last year.

The 57% drop in filings in the First District is far higher than declines elsewhere in the state.  The Second District actually increased its docket in the early years of the decade, from 684 new civil filings in 2011 to 770 in 2012.  The number was still at 715 in 2015.  But the numbers dropped after that, with the Second reporting 636 new civil matters in 2016, 524 in 2017, 546 in 2018, 599 in 2019, 409 in 2020 and 418 in 2021.

The decline in the Third District across the decade was third largest in the state (behind the First and the Fourth).  There were 502 new filings in 2011 and 529 in 2012.  The number dropped into the 400s until 2017 before dropping to 338 in 2018, 361 in 2019, 235 in 2020 and 302 in 2021.

The Fourth District saw a decline of 42.78% in filings during the period.  There were 547 new civil filings in 2011.  That rose to 589 in 2012, but had fallen to 445 by 2016.  There were 363 in 2017, 314 in 2018, 371 in 2019, 257 in 2020 and 313 in 2021.  The Fifth District had the smallest decline in the state in new civil filings – only 32.2%.  The Fifth had 345 new cases in 2011, 368 by 2013, and was still at 353 in 2016.  After that, the Fifth District docket fell to 254 in 2017, 271 in 2018, 271 in 2019, 222 in 2020 and 234 in 2021.

Next time, we’ll review the data for criminal dockets across the same eleven year period.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Joseph Gage (no changes).

This time, we’re reviewing the decline in Appellate Court criminal dockets between 2001 and 2010.

The sharpest decline was in the First District.  There were 2,176 new criminal notices of appeal filed in 2000.  Although that number rose to 2,334 in 2001, it nosedived to 1,772 in 2002 and stayed around that level for the remainder of the decade.

The data in other Districts changed much less.  There were 649 new criminal notices of appeal in the Second District in 2000.  By 2006, there were only two fewer.  In 2009, there were again 647 new notices of appeal and the number dropped to 607 in 2010.

Criminal notices of appeal actually increased during the decade in the Third District.  There were 486 new notices of appeal in 2000.  That went up to 525 in 2001 and 539 a year later.  After a short dropoff, the data was back up to 578 in 2008 before leveling off to 491 in 2010.

Filings were also up in the Fourth District.  There were 493 new criminal notices of appeal in 2000, but the number never fell below 500 between 2001 and 2010.  By 2010, there were 552 new criminal notices of appeal.

With the exception of a one-year drop in 2010, filings were steady in the Fifth District.  There were 267 new criminal appeals in 2000, but that rose to 363 the following year.  After falling back to 296 in 2003, new filings remained between 250 and 300 a year until 2010, when there were 228 new appeals.

Next time, we’ll be reviewing the docket data for the civil side between 2011 and 2020.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Sam Valadi (no changes).

Last time we reviewed the data for civil dockets in the Districts of the Appellate Court for the years 1997 through 2000.  Today, we’re looking at the data for the years 2001 through 2010.

In 2000, the First District saw 2,109 new proceedings.  That number dipped towards the middle of the decade, bottoming out at 1,862 in 2007, but by 2010, filings at the First District were actually up – 2,187 new cases for 2010.

The Second District saw a steep drop in the middle of the decade too, from 839 in 2010 to 653 in 2007, before staging a partial recovery to 727 new cases in 2010.  The recession cut into Third District cases as well.  There were 518 new civil matters in 2000 and 519 in 2001, but 498 in 2006 and 472 apiece in 2007 and 2008.  The number was up again in 2009 to 555 new cases but fell in 2010 to 482.

The Fourth and Fifth Districts both saw steep declines in this decade.  The Fourth District saw 605 new cases in 2000 and 652 in 2001.  But by 2004, there were only 526, and by 2008, it was down to only 477 new cases.  In the Fifth District, there were 578 new cases in 2000.  The total fell to 492 in 2005, 448 in 2006 and 398 in 2008 before reaching its decade low of 396 new cases in 2010.

Next time we’ll review the data for the criminal side.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Ron Frazier (no changes).


Last time, we showed that although civil dockets were down a bit between 1997 and 2000 in the First and Fifth Districts, declines elsewhere in the state were negligible.  This time, we look at the criminal dockets for the same period.

The pattern was relatively similar on the criminal docket.  Across the four years, new criminal filings at the First District declined about eleven per cent, from 2,436 in 1997 to 2,176 in 2000.  New filings in the Second District were actually up – from 566 in 1997 to 737 in 1998, 665 in 1999 and 649 in 2000.  Third District filings were up too, from 458 in 1997 to 486 in 2000.  Fourth District filings fell about eight percent: 535 new cases in 1997, 467 in 1998, 479 in 1999 and 493 in 2000.  But once again, the Fifth District had the biggest decline of twenty-three percent.  In 1997, there were 346 new cases.  That fell to 272 in 1998, 290 in 1999 and 267 in 2000.

Next up, civil cases in the Appellate Court between 2001 and 2010.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Pom’ (no changes).

Today we’re beginning a series of posts examining the declining dockets at the Appellate Court and assessing the impact on the Supreme Court’s work.

Below, we report the District-by-District new filings numbers for civil cases, 1997-2000 (all data comes from the Illinois Courts Annual Report Statistical Summaries – we begin with 1997 because that’s as far back as the filings are posted.)

Of course, First District filings dwarf the rest of the state.  Filings were up about six percent from 1997 to 1998, but total filings consistently declined after that – 2,368 new cases in 1999 and 2,109 in 2000.  Second District filings didn’t decline at all – there were 751 new cases filed in 1997 and 839 in 2000.  Third District civil filings were down about nine percent during these years, going from 568 new cases in 1997 to 518 in 2000.  Fourth District filings were down only slightly, from 632 new cases in 1997 to 605 in 2000.

The Fifth District sustained the biggest drop of all.  There were 757 new cases in the Fifth during 1997, but only 587 in 1998, 566 in 1999 and 578 in 2000.

Next time, we’ll review the criminal filings for the years 1997 through 2000.

Image courtesy of Flickr by GPA Photo Archive (no changes).