For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking for insights into the Court’s decision-making processes by reviewing the data for the length of the Court’s opinions. This week and next, we’re looking at a related question: which Justices tended to write the longest and shortest majority opinions. This week, the civil side. We’ll take the question in two steps: first, who wrote the most and fewest majorities year by year, so we can identify the deceptive averages which are based on fewer total opinions. Keep in mind, these numbers can be influenced by several different factors: the desire to equalize the chambers’ workloads, individual Justices’ seniority, and how often a Justice is actually in the majority (after all, a Justice can hardly be assigned the majority opinion when she or he is voting in the minority). Then, we’ll look at average length.
In Table 971, we report the data for majority opinions in civil cases written by each Justice from 1990 to 1997. In 1990, the most prolific writer was Justice Miller with sixteen civil opinions, the least was Chief Justice Moran was 5. In 1991, the highest number was Chief Justice Moran and Justice Clark with ten each, and the lowest was Justice Calvo, who passed away in June, having written only one civil majority that year. In 1992, the highest load of civil majorities was by Justice Cunningham with sixteen. The lowest was Chief Justice Miller. In 1993, Justices Freeman and Heiple wrote nine civil majorities while Chief Justice Miller wrote three. In 1994, Justice Nickels led with fourteen majority opinions, while Chief Justice Miller – who was replaced as Chief by Justice Bilandic in the fall – wrote seven. In 1995, Justice McMorrow led with eleven civil majorities to five written by Justice Nickels. In 1996, Chief Justice Bilandic led with ten majorities opinions to five for Justice Miller. In 1997, Justice Freeman, who replaced Justice Bilandic as Chief Justice in the fall, and Justice Heiple led with eleven civil majorities each, and Justice Nickels wrote the fewest with five.
In Table 972, we review the yearly data for the years 1998 through 2004. In 1998, Justice Ward led, writing fourteen civil majorities. Justices Bilandic and Harrison wrote eight apiece. The following year, Justice Bilandic led with eight majority opinions, Justice Harrison wrote four. In 2000, Justices Bilandic, Harrison and Miller wrote seven civil majorities each, and Chief Justice Freeman, who was succeeded in that post in the fall by Justice Harrison, wrote three. In 2001, Justice McMorrow wrote eleven majority opinions while Justice Kilbride wrote two. In 2002, Justice Kilbride led the Court, writing ten majority opinions in civil cases, while Chief Justice Harrison wrote four. In 2003, Justices Freeman and Kilbride led with eight majority opinions, while Justice Fitzgerald wrote four. In 2004, Justices Fitzgerald and Rarick wrote nine majority opinions apiece, while Chief Justice McMorrow and Justice Thomas wrote five each.
In Table 973, we review the overall data for the period – who was the most prolific writer? During these years, Justice Freeman most often wrote for the Court in civil cases, with 112 majority opinions. Justices Bilandic, McMorrow, Heiple and Miller were next, writing 89, 89, 87 and 87 majorities, respectively. Justice Harrison was next with sixty-five majority opinions.
In Table 974, we review the yearly data for the years 2005 to 2011. In 2005, Justice Garman led with nine civil opinions, while Justice Fitzgerald wrote four. In 2006, Justices Fitzgerald and Karmeier wrote ten majority opinions in civil cases to four for Justice Kilbride and Justice Burke, appointed in mid-year, wrote one. In 2007, Justice Fitzgerald wrote nine majority opinions, while Chief Justice Thomas and Justices Garman, Karmeier and Kilbride wrote four each. In 2008, Justice Freeman led with eight majority opinion, and Justice Karmeier wrote four. In 2009, Justice Garman led with eight majorities and Justice Thomas wrote three. In 2010, Justice Karmeier led with eight majority opinions to two for Justice Kilbride. In 2011, Justices Thomas and Burke wrote seven majority opinions each. Chief Justice Kilbride wrote one.
In 2012, Justice Freeman led with seven civil majorities. Chief Justice Kilbride wrote four. In 2013, Justices Burke and Karmeier wrote seven majorities, while Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Freeman wrote two. In 2014, Justice Burke wrote six majorities, while Justices Kilbride, Freeman and Karmeier wrote three apiece. In 2015, Justice Karmeier wrote nine civil majority opinions, and Chief Justice Garman wrote three. In 2016, Justices Freeman, Kilbride and Theis wrote five majority opinions apiece, while Chief Justice Garman wrote two. In 2017, Justices Burke led with six majority opinions, while Justices Freeman and Kilbride wrote one apiece. Last year, Justice Thomas wrote five majority opinions, while Justice Theis wrote one.
In Table 976, we report the overall data for the years 2005 through 2018. Justice Karmeier is narrowly the most prolific author for the Court in civil cases with seventy-seven. Justice Thomas wrote seventy-five, Justice Garman seventy and Justice Burke has written sixty-nine. Justice Neville, who joined the Court in 2018, wrote two majority opinions in civil cases before the end of the year. Former Chief Justice Fitzgerald wrote thirty-nine and his successor, Justice Theis, has written thirty-eight.
Join us back here tomorrow as we take the second step in our analysis – who wrote the longest majority opinions?