Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prof. Uelmen on the Cal Supreme Court

This month's California Lawyer magazine has Gerry Uelmen's annual article on the Supreme Court (pp. 24-28), titled "New Balance at the California Supreme Court: The second year of the Cantil-Sakauye Court shows emerging trends among the justices." The article begins:
In sharp contrast to the first year of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye's leadership of the California Supreme Court, her second year saw dissent and disagreement rates sharply increase, with some unusual combinations in both the majority and dissenting opinions. From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, the court split 4-3 in seven cases, compared with only one in the previous twelve months. (See "Justices United," September 2012.) There were also seven 5-2 opinions, compared with one the previous year. As a result, the overall dissent rate nearly tripled - from 2.3 percent to 6.1 percent.
The article uses a statistical approach to conclude that: Justices Kennard and Liu tied for the highest dissent rate, but rarely joined each other's opinions (with a 13% disagreement rate); Justices Chin and Baxter were the most congruent (98%); and the highest disagreement rate was between Justices Baxter and Liu (15%). The "odd couple" are Justices Corrigan and Liu with a 94% agreement rate. Prof Uelmen thought the best opinion of the year was Justice Liu's concurrence in People v. Barrett (2012) 54 Cal.4th 1081, 1114-1151, and the worst opinion was Justice Kennard's opinion In re Richards (2012) 55 Cal.4th 948, with People v. Aranda (2012) 55 Cal.4th 342 (by the Chief), a close second.

Opinion Count The Court decided 96 cases in the past year, compared with 86 in the previous twelve months. The number of concurring and dissenting opinions increased sharply, largely due to the output of Justices Kennard and Liu. Justice Liu's low rate of majority opinions is most likely a result of reassignments. When the court grants a hearing, the chief justice assigns the task of preparing a calendar memorandum to one of the justices who supported taking the case; the calendar memorandum evolves into a majority opinion if three other justices sign on. If the calendar memorandum does not draw a majority, the case is reassigned to another justice who will write the majority opinion. The justice's calendar memorandum then ends up as a separate opinion. Some of Liu's concurrences and dissents read as though they had been prepared to be majority opinions - for example, People v. Barrett (54 Cal. 4th 1081 (2012)). -G.F.U.