Reviews for The Shadow Docket

by Stephen Vladeck

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A legal scholar examines and cross-examines a Supreme Court increasingly given to secrecy. Vladeck, CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, argues that the court has increasingly delivered its rulings by means of the “shadow docket” of his title, unsigned orders with no position or legal analysis attached and comprised of shorthand language—e.g., “the application for injunctive relief presented to JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR and by her referred to the Court is granted,” or “the application for a stay presented to JUSTICE ALITO and by him referred to the Court is denied.” Sometimes this means that the court lets lower rulings stand, but sometimes the unsigned order is a way of sidestepping the fraught matter of actually rendering a concrete decision. Occasionally, it’s a way of enforcing unpopular legal rulings without attaching responsibility, with plenty of attendant ironies. For example, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, appointed by former President Donald Trump, has demanded that critics read the arguments that would ordinarily be included on a “merits docket” only to issue most decisions in those bland one-sentence utterances. Even the website offering transcripts of the justices’ public speeches hasn’t been updated in years (the most recent entry is from August 2019). By Vladeck’s account, not only is the court withdrawing itself from public accountability, but it is also making decisions that properly belong to the executive and legislative branches. The author often writes in language requiring legal training to fully understand—“In general, although denials of certiorari therefore cannot be cited as proof of the Supreme Court’s views on any particular issue, they regularly produce significant substantive effects by changing the status quo on the ground”—but his arguments against the walled-off court are certainly persuasive and timely. Critics of the current court will find much to ponder in Vladeck’s account. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.