Today, we’re looking at the data for the criminal docket at the Supreme Court during the 1990s – specifically (1) the total caseload; (2) the total number of pages of majority opinions written and (3) the average length of the Court’s majority opinions in criminal cases.
For the entire decade, the Court decided 611 cases. The Court filed 13,238 pages of majority opinions. This comes to an average length of 21.67 pages per majority opinion.
Caseloads on the criminal side were not following a consistent pattern in 1990s, as shown in the Table below. There were 69 criminal cases in 1990, but 86 in 1992. There were 62 criminal cases in 1994 and 71 in 1995. There were 52 criminal cases in 1996, 58 in 1997, 72 in 1998 and only 49 in 1999. Total pages of majority opinions spiked from 1,792 in 1990 to 2,241 in 1992. By 1995, the Court was back down to 1,570 pages of majority opinions. This dropped to only 938 pages in 1997 and 708 in the light year of 1999.
Average length of majority opinions was fairly static for the first seven years of the decade: 25.98 pages in 1990; 26.06 pages in 1992; 21.05 in 1994 and 26.15 pages in 1996. But the average then dropped to 16.17 pages in 1997, 16.54 in 1998 and 14.44 in 1999.
We commented yesterday that one reason why average length of majority opinions is a variable worth following is that longer opinions make dissent significantly more likely. Next week, we’ll take a look at the data for unanimity at the Court in the 1990s, inquiring whether the slow decrease in opinion length had any impact on the dissent rate.
Join us back here next Tuesday for those posts.