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August 18, 2016

Empirical SCOTUS highlights how sentencing cases of OT 15 already "have the greatest downstream effects" in lower courts

I just saw this fascinating new Empirical SCOTUS post by Adam Feldman titled "Five SCOTUS Decisions Making Waves in the Lower Courts." I was not at all surprised that three of the five cases making the list are sentencing cases (and the other two deal with criminal procedure matters), and here are snippets from the post providing the highlights:

[Supreme Court] rulings in many cases each Term go under the radar [because] they deal with less politically salient issues. Some of these cases, however, have the greatest downstream effects.

This post looks at five “sleeper cases” from this past Term that have made their major impact through the lower courts. The immediate significance of these decisions is in how they change or clarify rules and laws and consequently the trajectory of many lower court decisions. They are especially impactful in criminal cases as they tend to arise when dealing with rights of those accused or convicted of crimes.

The post ranks the cases based on the relative number of times they have been cited by a combination of federal and state lower courts (even though these decisions were made across several months of the Term, the number of times they were cited makes it unlikely that the variation in decision timing has a substantial effect on this list of cases).

5) Mathis v. United States, decided June 23, 2016 (75 lower court citations)...

4) Ross v. Blake, decided June 6, 2016 (107 lower court citations)...

3) Mullenix v. Luna (per curiam), decided November 9, 2015 (213 lower court citations)...

2) Montgomery v. Louisiana, decided January 25, 2016 (373 lower court citations) ....

1) Welch v. United States, decided April 18, 2016 (765 lower court citations) ...

My colleagues and students are certainly tired of hearing me claim that sentencing issues are often the most important public policy issues of this generation and that SCOTUS sentencing rulings are often the most consequential of all cases. Needless to say, these notable empirics is not going to reduce my tendency to aggrandize the issues and cases that are my own professional obsession.

August 18, 2016 at 11:37 AM | Permalink


I'm willing to bet Johnson leads the list for OT 2014.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 18, 2016 1:49:12 PM

Montgomery actually might be higher. I know in my state, all the Montgomery-Miller cases were handled by order without opinion.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 19, 2016 11:54:45 AM

If you do a search including unpublished opinions Montgomery and especially Welch are going to produce gigantic numbers. There are maybe a few thousand LWOP cases that are entitled to resentencing under Montgomery, and each resentencing is a momentous enough event that the judge would issue a formal order Lexis and Westlaw could archive. And there are at least a few thousand ACA defendants entitled to review, maybe up to 10,000+; our local federal clerk's office is creating a separate docket for ACA reviews. Considering every federal court order gets archived that could produce many thousands of orders.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 19, 2016 9:53:37 PM

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