The Hughes Court Docket Books: The Early Terms, 1929-1933
40 J. Sup. Ct. Hist. 103 (2015)
31 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 16, 2015
For many years, the docket books kept by a number of the justices of the Hughes Court have been held by the Office of the Curator of the Supreme Court. Yet the existence of these docket books was not widely known, and access to them was highly restricted. Recently, however, the Court adopted new guidelines designed to increase access to the docket books for researchers. This article offers the first-ever examination of the available docket book entries relevant to what scholars commonly regard as the major decisions rendered during the early years of the Hughes Court, from the 1929 through the 1933 Terms. The decisions examined concern the Commerce Clause, the dormant Commerce Clause, substantive due process, equal protection, fair trade, labor relations, intergovernmental tax immunities, criminal procedure, civil rights, and civil liberties. The information in the docket books sheds particularly fascinating new light on decisions such as Nebbia v. New York, Home Bldg. & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell, New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, Powell v. Alabama, Nixon v. Condon, and Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co. In particular, the docket books often reveal what the justices said to one another at their conference deliberations over major cases, and illuminate many previously unknown changes in justices’ votes between those conferences and the times the decisions were published. Analysis of the voting data contained in the docket books yields some surprising results, and offers a contribution to two bodies of political science scholarship on judicial behavior: the literature on vote fluidity and unanimity norms in the Supreme Court, and the literature on the so-called “freshman effect” that some scholars have found exhibited by the Court’s newest members.
Keywords: Hughes Court, docket books, vote fluidity, unanimity norms, freshman effect
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