Justice Sotomayor is Odd Woman Out in Roberts’ Writing Assignments for Supreme Court Decisions

Thursday, November 19, 2015
Sonia Sotomayor and John Roberts (AP photo)

Perhaps it is time for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to bring Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. an apple or some flowers because she’s not getting any love when it comes time to writing significant court opinions.


A new study by Harvard law professor Richard J. Lazarus, published in the Harvard Law Review, found Sotomayor has not been assigned a major case in her six terms on the court.


Roberts Jr. is, as The Washington Post put it, “a stickler for evenly distributing the workload of the Supreme Court, but he plays favorites among his eight colleagues when assigning the court’s most important decisions.”


In particular, Roberts plays favorites with Roberts, assigning more key cases to himself than any other justice. Roberts has had 34% of such cases, Lazarus found.


Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between the court’s conservative and liberal wings, was given 31% of them.


The court’s most conservative and liberal members—Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on the right, and Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the left—received fewer assignments. Instead, Roberts relies more on Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on the conservative side of the bench and Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the left.


“For the closely divided cases in particular, the chief appears to place a premium on opinion writers who can write more narrowly and therefore can be more trusted to maintain the majority established” with the vote tally on each case, Lazarus wrote.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Chief Justice Favors Some When Assigning Court’s Major Decisions (by Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

Back to “Business” at the Supreme Court: The “Administrative Side” of Chief Justice Roberts (by Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law Review)

When to Recuse—The Sotomayor Standard vs. The Scalia Standard (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Catholics Gain a Super Majority on the Supreme Court (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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