Cal. Litig. 2021, Volume 34, Number 3

The California Supreme Court, 2020-2021: Tracking the Impact of the Pandemic

By Kirk C. Jenkins

Kirk C. Jenkins is Senior Counsel at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP in San Francisco, and is the President of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

Although there was comparatively little time in Judicial Year 2019-2020 for the coronavirus pandemic to impact the Court’s workload given that a national emergency was not declared until March 2020, the story of the California Supreme Court for JY2021 was the same as the dominant story for nearly everyone around the world: coping with the pandemic.

The pandemic’s impact was clear in the JY2021 data. The Court’s production of opinions was down sharply: only 56 decisions — 37 criminal and only 19 civil. This compares to 77 decisions in JY2020 (43 criminal, 34 civil), 75 in JY2019 (43 criminal, 32 civil), 85 in JY2018 (49 criminal, 36 civil) and 90 in JY2017 (44 criminal, 46 civil). Thus, the Court’s workload was down 28% in a single year. The explanation isn’t difficult to fathom. Criminal defendants have the right to a speedy trial, which at least somewhat limits a trial judge’s ability to postpone trial dates. Civil parties have no correlative right. Accordingly, the Court’s criminal production was down only about 14%, while civil cases dropped 42% from the two preceding years.

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