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
Date Written: August 13, 2015
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
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