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The Supreme Court’s Most Partisan Decisions Are Flying Under the Radar

Slate – Through its “shadow docket,” the court is quietly shaping the rules around elections, COVID regulations, immigration, and the federal death penalty. “…The court’s “merits docket” includes cases in which the justices first decide to grant review, take full briefing (including from outside parties), hold oral argument, and then deliver lengthy, signed opinions providing the court’s reasoning and resolving the case. In contrast, the “shadow docket” consists almost entirely of summary orders, usually only one sentence long. These orders tend to be based on far less participation from lawyers, far less briefing, and no oral argument. And, in almost every case, they offer virtually no insight into the justices’ reasoning—unless some of them choose to write separately to explain their concurrence or dissent. Indeed, unlike merits cases, we usually don’t even know how the justices voted on the shadow docket—unless four justices publicly note their dissent (or three, if it’s an order granting review). For those reasons and others, these orders tend to receive far less scrutiny from the press, the public, and the academy—and far less attention and precedential weight from lower courts. Yet there are more than 6,000 cases decided this way each term. Many of these rulings are as unsurprising as they are unimportant. But not all of them…”

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