Finally, we reach the most important information of all about the Court from the viewpoint of an appellate lawyer: data about the Justices’ voting patterns. Because unanimity rates overstate the degree of agreement on the Court, we focus on voting patterns in the Court’s non-unanimous civil decisions. Because the number of non-unanimous civil decisions in any particular year is relatively small, we once again report three-year floating averages rather than year-by-year data.
The Court’s unanimity rate was somewhat lower between 2000 and 2004 than in most of the years that followed. In 2000, only 57.9% of the Court’s civil cases were decided unanimously, and fully one-quarter of the Court’s cases had either two or three dissenters. In the four years that followed, with several new Justices on the Court, the Court’s unanimity rate increased somewhat to between sixty and seventy percent. In 2002 and 2004, one in every five cases ended in a significantly divided Court. Not surprisingly in view of this data, the Court seems to have lacked a consistent four-vote voting bloc during these years.
Between 2000 and 2002, Justice Garman was closely aligned with Justices Thomas and Fitzgerald (96.2% and 84.6%, respectively). Justice Freeman voted with Chief Justice McMorrow in three-quarters of the non-unanimous civil cases during that three-year period, but both Justices voted with Garman, Thomas and Fitzgerald less often.
The patterns remained quite similar through 2003 and 2004. Justice Garman voted with Justice Thomas in most non-unanimous civil cases (92.3% and 88.4%), and with Justice Fitzgerald nearly three-quarters of the time (72.5% and 72.1%). Justice Thomas voted with Justice Fitzgerald in more than eighty percent of non-unanimous civil cases. Chief Justice McMorrow continued to vote with Justice Freeman quite often (83.7% and 89.1%), but both the Chief Justice and Justice Freeman voted with Justices Garman, Thomas and Fitzgerald somewhat less often – between fifty-five and sixty-five percent of the time.
Next week, we’ll continue our close analysis of the Court’s voting dynamics between 2000 and 2004.