Justice Neil Gorsuch has joined Justice Samuel Alito Jr. in opting out of the Court’s “cert. pool” – a labor-saving procedure by which all certiorari stage briefing is initially reviewed by a law clerk from one of the participating Justice’s chambers.  Justices who participate in the pool then receive a “pool memo,” generated by the reviewing clerk, which makes a “grant” or “deny” recommendation.

Instead, Justices Gorsuch and Alito, along with their judicial clerks, will review each incoming petition on their own in order to make the grant/deny recommendation.  Approximately 8,000 petitions are filed each term; less than 80 of which are deemed “certworthy.”

The cert. pool has long been criticized for providing talented young clerks – neither appointed nor confirmed – with too much power.

Some argue that having several sets of eyes review each petition — the pool clerk, along with clerks from the chambers of

[the Justices] — may serve as a valuable check. The pool system, though, has the virtue of ensuring that at least one clerk will give each petition a careful look, which might not be possible were each justice’s clerks to review every petition. (Justices typically have four clerks each.)

Critics of the cert. pool say it has led to homogenization and a lack of candor, a consequence of writing for an audience broader than only the clerk’s own justice. But the pool memorandums are often only a starting point, with each justice’s own clerks sometimes reviewing, highlighting and annotating the more important ones.

A Second Justice Opts Out of a Longtime Custom: The ‘Cert. Pool’.  Adam Liptak, New York Times, Sept. 25, 2008.

Liptak wrote again this week on Gorsuch’s decision and the shrinking merits docket:

Some scholars have traced the decline of the Supreme Court docket to the pool. In the early 1980s, the Supreme Court decided more than 150 cases a year. These days, it decides about half that many…. Having several clerks review each petition — the pool clerk and ones from the chambers of Justices Alito and Gorsuch — would presumably mean that fewer worthy ones fall through the cracks…. Pool memos are not public, but some have been released, decades after they were written, in justices’ papers after their deaths.

Gorsuch, in Sign of Independence, Is Out of Supreme Court’s Clerical Pool. Adam Liptak, New York Times, May 1, 2017.