Last week, we took a break from our data analytics work on the Illinois Supreme Court’s oral arguments between 2008 and 2014 for a statistical preview of two big cases from the upcoming September term. Today we resume our statistical search for indicators of what kinds of cases are more likely to spark heavier questioning at the Court with a new question: does a dissent at the Appellate Court suggest that there will be more questions at oral argument before the Illinois Supreme Court?
Readers will recall that last month, we asked whether one side getting far more questions than the other is a reliable indicator of a unanimous decision. Although the answer then was no, one can still imagine reasons why disagreement among the three-judge panel deciding a case at the Appellate Court might lead to heavier questioning at the Supreme Court: one can speculate that all other things being equal, the Court might probe an Appellate Court decision more deeply when the decision was unable to garner the agreement of a three-judge panel.
Beginning with appellants, we see that there is no consistent relationship from year to year between appellants in divided Appellate Court decisions and appellants attacking unanimous decisions.
However, when we turn to appellees – the party defending the Appellate Court decision – we find some support for the theory that a dissent below might affect questioning at the Supreme Court. In 2008-2011 and 2014, appellees – the party defending the Appellate Court’s decision – received somewhat more questions in relation to divided Appellate Court decisions than when defending unanimous decisions. In 2008, 2011 and 2014, the difference between divided Appellate Court decisions and unanimous ones was particularly significant. For the entire seven-year period, appellants attacking divided Appellate Court decisions averaged fewer questions than appellants in unanimous cases – 16.78 to 17.75. However, appellees defending divided decisions received an average of 15.87 questions over the entire period to 12.64 questions to appellees defending unanimous decisions.
Tomorrow, we continue our analysis of the Court’s overall question patterns by asking whether the Court tends to average more questions when reviewing decisions of particular districts of the Appellate Court?