The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Supreme Court

Where Are the SCOTUS Opinions?

This Supreme Court term is setting a record for not releasing opinions in argued cases.


October Term 2022 continues to be a term of longer arguments and fewer opinions. The Supreme Court has issued fewer opinions at this point in its term than during any term in the past century, even though it hears far fewer cases.

Lawrence Hurley of NBC News has the details:

Back in 1923, the Supreme Court had issued 157 rulings by May 1 in a term that started the previous fall.

On the same date a century later, the current justices, facing a firestorm of scrutiny on multiple fronts, have disposed of just 15 cases, fueling speculation about why they are falling behind.

In fact, the court has decided fewer cases at this point of the term — which begins each October and ends in June — than at any time in the last 100 years, according to numbers compiled by Supreme Court stats guru Adam Feldman.

There is one big caveat: The court hears oral arguments in substantially fewer cases now than it did in previous decades. In the 1922-23 term, the court heard 205 cases, noted Lee Epstein, a political scientist at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. This term it was a mere 59.

The story notes several potential causes of the Court's slower performance: the leak investigation, the need to deal with filings on the "emergency docket" (aka the "shadow docket"), and the dispropportionate share of cases that address complex questions likely to splinter the justices.

It also appears that justices have been writing more. As the number of majority opinions has dropped, the number of concurrences and dissents appears to have held steady. In October Term 2005, for instance, there were 95 concurrences and dissents for 82 majority opinions. Last term there were also 95 concurrences and dissents, but only 57 majority opinions.

So far this term the Court has heard argument in 60 cases, deciding 13 and dismissing one more. That leaves 46 cases to be decided (or otherwise resolved). The Court has not announced its next opinion day.