Last week, we reviewed the basic data on lag times at the Court – how long has it typically taken, year after year, for civil and criminal cases to be argued and decided. This week, we’re looking at a different aspect of lag time – does it help predict the likely result? Is a case which takes longer than expected to be argued or decided more likely to be an affirmance or reversal?
In Table 688, we compare the yearly lag time from the allowance of the PLA to oral argument for affirmances and reversals in civil cases. We see a fairly clear result – in seven of the last eight years, it’s taken longer from grant to argument in cases where the Court ultimately affirmed than in reversals. The pattern is different at the outset of our period. In 2007, civil affirmances averaged 161.75 days from grant to argument, while reversals got argued in 163.8 days. In 2008, affirmances averaged 168.29 days, while reversals averaged 187.41 days. In 2009, affirmances averaged 169.44 days, reversals 192.62 days.
But since 2010, the relationship has been consistent – affirmances take longer to reach argument. In 2010, affirmances in civil cases averaged 213.87 days, reversals were argued in 176.27. In 2011, affirmances averaged 220.81 days, reversals 162 days. In 2012, affirmances averaged 254.75 days, while reversals were argued in nearly two months less time – 190 days. 2013 was the only break in the pattern – affirmances 178.54 days, reversals 191.58 days. But in 2014 and since, affirmances once again took longer. In 2014, affirmances averaged 226.71 days to argument, reversals averaged 188.15. IN 2015, affirmances averaged 220.24 days, reversals averaged 197.86 days. In 2016, affirmances averaged 181.33 days, reversals averaged 173.5 days. Last year, affirmances averaged 212.3 days, while reversals averaged 194.73 days.
So what about the second half of the process, from argument to decision? It turns out the relationship flips: affirmances consistently take longer to reach argument, but in ten of the past thirteen years, reversals take longer to decide.
In 2005, reversals in civil cases averaged 172.08 days, while affirmances averaged 163.42 days. In 2006, reversals averaged 154.59 days, affirmances averaged 117.5 days. In 2007, reversals averaged 134.41 days, while affirmances averaged 121.76 days. In 2008, affirmances averaged 160.67 days, reversals averaged 146 days. In 2009, reversals averaged 146.23 days from argument to decision, while affirmances averaged 120.5 days. In 2010, there was more than two months difference – reversals averaged 181.78 days, and affirmances were decided in 111.87 days.
In 2011, affirmances took slightly longer – 149.59 days to 137.42 days for reversals. In 2012, reversals averaged 155.68 days to 146.75 days for affirmances. In 2013, affirmances averaged 164.79 days, while reversals averaged 118.55 days. In 2014, reversals averaged 134.5 days, while affirmances took 97.57 days. In 2015, reversals averaged 136.05 days from argument to decision, while affirmances averaged 98.71 days. In 2016, reversals averaged 197.92 days, affirmances 122.23 days. Last year, affirmances took longer – 125.73 days to 104.33 for reversals.
So affirmances take longer to reach argument, but reversals take longer to decide. How does it net out – is there a consistent relationship across the entire lag time of a case from grant to argument?
The answer is no – across the entire decisional process, there’s no consistent correlation between lag time and result. Reversals were pending longer from 2007 to 2010 and in 2015 and 2016, and in the remaining years, affirmances were pending longer.
Join us back here next time as we take a look at the data on the criminal side of the docket.