Foreword: The Supreme Court's Shadow Docket

47 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2015 Last revised: 10 Mar 2015

See all articles by William Baude

William Baude

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: January 6, 2015


The 2013 Supreme Court Term provides an occasion to look beyond the Court’s merits cases to the Court’s shadow docket — a range of orders and summary decisions that defy its normal procedural regularity.

I make two claims: First, many of the orders lack the transparency that we have come to appreciate in its merits cases. Some of those orders merit more explanation, and should make us skeptical of proposals to depersonalize the Court.

Second, I address summary reversal orders in particular. As a general matter, the summary reversal has become a regular part of the Supreme Court’s practice. But the selection of cases for summary reversal remains a mystery. This mystery makes it difficult to tell whether the Court's selections are fair.

I catalogue the Roberts Court’s summary reversals and suggest that they can be grouped into two main categories — a majority that are designed to enforce the Court’s supremacy over recalcitrant lower courts, and a minority that are more akin to ad hoc exercises of prerogative, or “lightning bolts.” The majority, the supremacy-enforcing ones, could be rendered fairer through identification of areas where lower-court willfulness currently goes unaddressed. We may simply be stuck with the lightning bolts.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Orders, Stay, Summary Reversal, Procedure, Procedural Regularity, Per Curiam, Lightning Bolts, Habeas, AEDPA

Suggested Citation

Baude, William, Foreword: The Supreme Court's Shadow Docket (January 6, 2015). 9 NYU Journal of Law & Liberty 1 (2015), U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 508, Available at SSRN:

William Baude (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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