The U.S. Supreme Court decided only 72 cases in its annual term ending in June this year, and only a handful of them concerned issues of big significance. The Supreme Court has accepted only 51 cases for its upcoming winter term. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Supreme Court took 200 to 300 cases a year, and even in the 1980s took about 150 cases each year.
Under Supreme Court rules, it takes four Justices to accept a case for review, which is called “granting cert.” Why has the Supreme Court’s caseload fallen so dramatically?
The sharp decline from 150 to about 75 cases a year occurred in the 1990s under the leadership of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He was a conservative who believed in limited government, and he felt that the Supreme Court should likewise limit itself, that it was better to address a few issues well than try to do too much. One of Rehnquist's clerks was John Roberts, who is now Chief Justice, and he apparently shares this philosophy for judicial restraint.
Other conservative Justices, particularly Sam Alito, may support taking more cases in order to correct judicial activism by the lower federal courts. When the Supreme Court declines to take a case, it often lets stand a liberal decision issued by the lower court. That has happened in several instances. Federal courts in six different circuits have handed down decisions to restrict parents' rights in public schools. These decisions approve the schools indoctrinating public school students about homosexuality, evolution, and Islam, and give the schools the right to force students to answer privacy-invading nosy questions about sex. The Supreme Court has refused to review any of these cases, so the decisions of the lower courts remain in force.
We need to think about this when Obama nominates judges for the lower federal courts.
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