Cal. Litig. 2023, Volume 35, Issue 3


Written by Kirk C. Jenkins*

Last year, we began our annual review of the California Supreme Court’s Judicial Year 2020-2021 by noting the decline in the number of cases the Court decided. We documented the steep reduction in the Court’s civil caseload and the much shallower drop in the criminal docket.

For JY2022, the decline continued, as the Court decided 21 civil cases and 28 criminal matters. This compares to 56 cases in JY2021 (19 civil, 37 criminal), 77 cases in JY2020 (34 civil, 43 criminal), 75 cases in JY2019 (32 civil, 43 criminal), 85 cases in JY2018 (36 civil, 49 criminal) and 90 cases in JY2017 (46 civil, 44 criminal). But is this really the only way of reasonably measuring the Court’s productivity? Can we fairly say that the Court was "less productive" if the Court decided fewer cases, but wrote longer opinions?

Longer Opinions. It turns out this is exactly what is happening. For JY2022, the Court wrote 695 pages of majority opinions in civil cases and 1,924 pages of majorities on the criminal side. In JY2021, the Court wrote 602 pages and 1,844 pages. In all, the Court produced 787 pages of opinions in civil cases and 2,120 pages in criminal cases during JY2022. To put it another way, the average civil majority opinion this year increased from 31.68 pages to 33.1, and the average criminal majority increased from 51.22 pages in JY2021 to 68.71 in JY2022. Granted, the Court’s 236-page majority opinion in People v. Ramirez impacted that total, but not enough to wipe out the gap entirely — without Ramirez, the Court averaged 62.52 pages in criminal majority opinions this year.

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