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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Clerk Training and the Success of Supreme Court Certiorari Petitions

Law and Society Review, Volume 49, Issue 4 (2015)

38 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2015 Last revised: 27 Aug 2015

William Blake

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) - Department of Political Science

Hans Hacker

Arkansas State University - Department of Political Science

Shon Hopwood

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: August 13, 2015

Abstract

We investigate why the Supreme Court grants a smaller percentage of cases at the first conference of each term compared to other conferences. According to received wisdom, Supreme Court law clerks are overly cautious at the beginning of their tenure because they receive only a brief amount of training. Reputational concerns motivate clerks to provide fewer recommendations to grant review in cert. pool memos written over the summer months. Using a random sample of petitions from the Blackmun Archives, we code case characteristics, clerk recommendation, and the Court’s decision on cert. Nearest neighbor matching suggests clerks are 36% less likely to recommend grants in their early cert. pool memos. Because of this temporal discrepancy, petitions arriving over the summer have a 16% worse chance of being granted by the Court. This seasonal variation in access to the Court’s docket imposes a legally-irrelevant burden on litigants who have little control over the timing of their appeal.

Keywords: Supreme Court, law clerks, certiorari, Long Conference

Suggested Citation

Blake, William and Hacker, Hans and Hopwood, Shon, Seasonal Affective Disorder: Clerk Training and the Success of Supreme Court Certiorari Petitions (August 13, 2015). Law and Society Review, Volume 49, Issue 4 (2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2644009

William Blake (Contact Author)

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) - Department of Political Science ( email )

1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250
United States

Hans Hacker

Arkansas State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Jonesboro, AR
United States

Shon R. Hopwood

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

111 F. Street, NW
Suite 306
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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