Legal commentators have long speculated that Supreme Court Justices prefer to release their most controversial opinions at the end of each term, days before embarking on summer recess to travel, teach, and write.
A recent study by Lee Epstein of Washington University, William Landes of the University of Chicago, and Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit analyzed 7,219 cases from 1946 to 2013 to determine the truth, if any, to the so-called “end-of-term-crunch.”
The trio discovered that on average more than 30 percent of cases each term are issued in June, and more than half of those are issued in the week proceeding summer recess (typically the last week in June).
Of note (quoting):
24.2 percent of all cases decided in the last week of June made the front page of the New York Times, compared to only 15.3 percent for cases decided earlier in June and 11.3 perfect for cases decided in all other months combined.
An average of 5.2 amicus curiae briefs were filed per case for cases decided in the last week of June, 3.1 for cases decided earlier in June, and 2.5 for cases decided in other months.
As Adam Liptak of the New York Times pointed out, “In 2013, for instance, the three final days of the term felt like the judicial equivalent of sweeps week on network television. Monday: affirmative action. Tuesday: voting rights. Wednesday: gay rights.”
Liptak summarized three possible reasons for waiting so long to decide a term’s biggest cases (quoting).
One is that justices keep polishing the opinions that will define their legacies until the last possible moment.
A second possibility is that releasing several major decisions in quick succession, some liberal and some conservative, may tend to diffuse media coverage and other commentary of any particular case, and thus spare the justices unwanted criticism.