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Monday, January 8, 2007

Less Work for More Money?

Perhaps in an attempt to justify Chief Justice Roberts’ recent pleas for higher judicial salaries, the Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear seven additional cases this term. Nevertheless, the Court remains on schedule to hear the lowest number of cases in modern history.

As we previously reported, this trend has left commentators a little befuddled, especially because at his confirmation hearings Chief Justice Roberts hinted that he would like to see the Court take more cases than it had under former Chief Justice Rehnquist. But, as University of Minnesota Law Professor David Stras points out, “When it comes to certiorari, the chief justice only has one vote like everyone else.”

In an article on Sunday, Robert Barnes of the Washington Post offered some guesses about the low caseload. Some Court-watchers think that the justices are risk-averse and don't want to grant cert in important cases with such a closely-divided Court, where the outcome would be in serious doubt. Although Barnes was unable to reach any firm conclusions, he did point out that some justices are more inclined to vote to take cases than others, and Justice Stevens is generally more inclined to hear cases than the other justices now on the Court. If Stevens were to be the next justice to leave the Court, it might decide to take even fewer cases. However, despite all the rumors, we’re not expecting Stevens to go anywhere anytime soon.

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