Last week, we investigated several questions about the data on oral argument question patterns at the Illinois Supreme Court: (1) is the party who gets more questions statistically more likely to lose; (2) do the odds against winning get longer as the difference in the number of questions asked one side and the other increases; and (3) is lopsided questioning a reliable predictor that the ultimate decision is likely to be unanimous?
This week, we continue our analysis of what the Court’s question patterns have indicated over the years about the ultimate decision. Today – do more questions suggest that the case will be under submission between oral argument and opinion for longer?
One can easily imagine scenarios which suggest that the answer might be yes. For example, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a case presenting an unusually large number of issues, or particularly difficult issues, both leading to a particularly “hot” bench, and a somewhat longer lag time until publication of the opinion. Appellate judges and justices often say that oral argument does, from time to time, cause them to view a case in a different light. To the extent that the several members of the Court get responses from counsel they weren’t expecting, one can imagine the Court might revisit issues, slowing down the ultimate opinion.
We begin with the basic descriptive statistics. Both total questions per oral argument and total days under submission are widely dispersed variables. The mean number of questions asked per argument from 2008-2014 is 31.155. Observations range from a low of 1 to a high of 81. The standard deviation of questions per argument is 15.136.
The average days under submission for civil cases between 2008 and 2014 (both unanimous and non-unanimous decisions) is 134.595. Observations range from a low of 15 days to a high of 715 days. Consistent with that, the standard deviation is 95.145.
Based on these results, we would expect the scatter plot to be widely spread out, and sure enough, it is. In the table, we plot total days under submission against total questions asked by the panel. If the two variables were strongly related, with more questions tending to be in cases which took longer to write opinions, we would expect the scatter to follow a fan anchored at the lower left hand point, with more total questions meaning more days. But in fact, the vast majority of the Court’s cases are handed down between 100 and 200 days after oral argument, with no clear relationship between total questions asked and time under submission:
The correlation data confirms the implications of this plot. The correlation between days under submission and total questions is -0.0197. What this means is that particularly active questioning from the Court tells us little about how long a case is likely to be under submission, and to the extent there is any relationship at all between the variables, it is the reverse of what we were expecting – heavy questioning suggests a quicker decision.
Tomorrow, we’ll address another question: does heavy questioning from the Court suggest a longer majority opinion?
 Standard deviation is the square root of a data set’s variance. Variance measures the degree to which the variables are dispersed from the mean. Thus, a variance of zero indicates that all observations are equal to the mean, while a large variance suggests that observations vary widely.