Recent Legal Developments: Criminal Justice Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, 2019 Term

DOI10.1177/0734016820949908
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Recent Legal Developments:
Criminal Justice Decisions of
the U.S. Supreme Court,
2019 Term
Craig Hemmens
1
, Angelo Brown
1
, and Samantha Tjaden
1
During its 2019 term, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a total of 60 decisions on the merits, including
53 signed opinions, five summary reversals, and two per curiam opinion. Of the 60 decisions, 11
(18%) dealt primarily with a criminal justice-related issue. This is the fewest number of criminal
justice-related decisions issued by the Court in the past quarter-century. A number of these decisions
dealt with important issues such as search and seizure, sentencing, and the interpretation of federal
statutes. These are discussed below.
The Court this term issued the fewest decisions overall in over 100 years, but there were none-
theless significant decisions in a variety of areas including abortion rights, gay and transgender
rights, and immigrant rights. The term was marked by a series of unusual events, among them the
Court responding to the coronavirus pandemic by holding oral arguments in May, and conducting
these arguments via telephone rather than in person, for the first time in history.
An examination of all of the Co urt’s decisions reveals some interesting patterns. Thirty -six
percent (22 of 60) of the Court’s decisions were unanimous, while 18 decisions (30%) had either
8–1 or 7-2 majorities. Sixty percent (40 out of 60) of the decisions were decided by a vote of at least
7-2. Seven cases (12%) were decided by a 6-3 margin, while 13 cases (22%) were decided by a 5-4
margin.
The makeup of cases accepted and decided by the Court was in line with past years. The vast
majority of cases (84%) were taken from the U.S. Courts of Appeal. The Ninth Circuit had the most
cases reviewed (10) and was reversed 9 times. This is not unusual, as the Ninth Circuit is both the
largest circuit and is generally perceived to be the most liberal in orientation. The Supreme Court
heard appeals from state courts 11 times, and reversed the state courts 8 times.
Chief Justice Roberts (97%) and Justice Kavanaugh (93%) were the two members of the Court
most frequently in the majority. This is the second year in a row that Chief Justice Roberts and
Justice Kavanaugh have led the justices in frequency in the majority. Chief Justice Roberts and
Justice Kavanaugh also had the highest level of agreement in all cases decided, agreeing in 93%of
1
Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Craig Hemmens, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.
Email: craig.hemmens@wsu.edu
Criminal Justice Review
ª2020 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0734016820949908
journals.sagepub.com/home/cjr
2022, Vol. 47(2) 137–147
Article

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT