Today, we conclude our look at the evolution of the Court’s majority opinions with a look at the criminal docket between 2008 and 2015. Last week, we observed two trends in the data. First, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were consistently longer than majorities in unanimous decisions – and the margin between non-unanimous and unanimous majorities in criminal cases was consistently higher than the difference in civil cases. Second, there was some indication in the years 2005-2007 that majority opinions might be getting longer.
Neither of those trends has held between 2008 and 2015. In 2010, 2012 and 2013, majority opinions in unanimous criminal decisions averaged longer than non-unanimous majorities. Even in years when non-unanimous majorities averaged more, the difference was less than it typically was between 2000 and 2007. In 2008, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions fell to 21.4 from a high of 30.1 the previous year; majority opinions in unanimous cases averaged 14.6 pages. The next year, non-unanimous majority opinions averaged 22.3 pages. Majority opinions in unanimous decisions were up a page and a half to 15.97 pages. Majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were down to only 13.67 pages in 2010, while the average in unanimous cases drifted up nearly three pages.
In the most recent five years, majority opinions have drifted downwards, just as we saw in civil cases. In 2011, majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions were up to 16.5 pages, but they were down to 12.49 pages in unanimous cases. In 2012 and 2013, division in the Court had almost no impact on the length of the majority opinions. In 2012, non-unanimous majorities averaged 11.06 pages to 11.19 in unanimous cases. The following year, non-unanimous majorities were down to 10.14 pages, while majority opinions in unanimous cases were up only slightly, to 11.75 pages. Majority opinions in non-unanimous decisions have drifted up slightly in the past two years, to 13 (2014) and 15.17 pages (2015), while majority opinions in unanimous decisions have been flat – 11.62 in 2014 and 11.7 pages last year.
Join us back here next Tuesday as we begin our look at the Court’s special concurrences.