SCOTUS Stats, for Those Scoring at Home

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 03, 2019 3:00 PM

Being on the U.S. Supreme Court is not a race, but people like to watch who is leading the court. Sometimes a single decision will produce a stand-out leader, whether in jurisprudence, or just because. All opinions are not created equal.

In any case, winning is sometimes a matter of opinion. For those scoring at home, here are the most recent leaders by number of written decisions:

Opinion Count

At last count, SCOTUSblog reported Justice Clarence Thomas was leading the pack. He had written seven majority opinions so far this term. Justice Steven Breyer was a close second with six. In races, ties shouldn't count when you are in third place because it really means somebody is in fourth. In any case, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan came in with four each. The bottleneck was at fourth place, meaning four justices wrote four majority opinions each. Chief Justice John Roberts led that group with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh filling out the rest.

Bringing up the rear was Justice Samuel Alito Jr. with two and the per curiam court with one. Because the chief justice decides who will write opinions when he votes with the majority, the tally suggests the conservative justices -- predictably -- are winning.

Opinions That Count

It's hard to say what it means in the big picture, but one thing is for sure: court-watchers will have their opinions about it. The Los Angeles Times, for example, said recent opinions by "Thomas should alarm us all."

Writing for the newspaper, Berkeley law dean Erwin Chemerinksy raised concerns about two Thomas opinions. He said they called into question constitutional rights to counsel and a free press. "Although these views are still in the minority on the court, Thomas' opinions help legitimize what would be a radical undermining of essential rights," he said. USA Today, on the other hand, reported "a conservative trend" with decisions on transgender troops, gun rights, and public prayer. The newspaper remarked that Kavanaugh has "bolstered the court's right flank."

In the end, the number of opinions don't matter as much as the vote count. Right now, it's 5-4.

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