For well over a decade, the Supreme Court of Texas has been presented with more than 1000 different matters each fiscal year. These matters consist of petitions for review, petitions for writs of mandamus, certified questions, petitions for habeas corpus, direct appeals, and a handful of other miscellaneous items. The bulk of the court’s docket consists of petitions for review, which are either denied or granted.
Understanding the make-up of the court’s docket may be enlightening. Where do these petitions for review come from and why? In the coming weeks, I will be presenting a number of blog posts that focus upon the make-up of the court’s docket. It is my hope to bring a greater understanding of the court’s docket by this analysis.
In this first blog entry, I focus on the immediate source of the petitions for review–the 14 intermediate courts of appeals. More particularly, I wanted to see what intermediate court of appeals the granted petitions for review came from. Assuming all things being equal, one might conclude that the distributions across the 14 intermediate courts would be roughly equal. But you have to consider that the 14 courts of appeals have different numbers of justices on them, ranging from 3 to 13. There are a total of 80 intermediate appellate court justices statewide, and thanks to the Texas Supreme Court’s efforts to equalize the workload, the distribution of cases among the 80 justices is roughly equal. With this in mind, based upon the total petitions granted, I was able to calculate the distribution of those granted petitions across the 14 intermediate courts that would be expected if all things were equal (random), keeping in mind the number of justices serving on each court. I then compared the expected distribution of granted petitions with the actual distribution of granted petitions. I performed these calculations for the calendar years ranging from 2014 to 2017. Here’s the result:
As this graph demonstrates, the Texas Supreme Court grants more petitions than would be expected from a random selection process for the 3rd (Austin), 4th (San Antonio), 8th (El Paso), 13th (Corpus Christi), and 14th (Houston) courts of appeals. The Texas Supreme Court grants fewer petitions than would be expected from a random selection for the 2nd (Fort Worth), 5th (Dallas), 6th (Texarkana), 9th (Beaumont), 10th (Waco), and 11th (Eastland) courts of appeals.
What explains these differences? Could it be that the 3rd, 4th, 8th, 13th, and 14th courts of appeals are making more errors? Could it be that these courts are deciding issues that are more important to the state’s jurisprudence–which was one of the key factors (and now the only factor) the Texas Supreme Court uses for exercising its discretion over which petitions to accept for review? Could it be that the other courts are making fewer errors, or deciding less important issues? The reader can draw his or her own conclusions, but the data does not in itself give any definitive answer.
Could it be that more petitions are filed from the 3rd, 4th, 8th, 13th and 14th courts of appeals? Stay tuned to find out…