“At a time when almost every other federal court has a readily accessible electronic database, why can’t the Supreme Court?”
That was how I ended a post from August 2014. By then, it was already long past time for the Supreme Court to develop something like the PACER electronic docket system that has operated for many years in the lower federal courts.
The Supreme Court is becoming increasingly accustomed to reversing lower court rulings that deny qualified immunity to police. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, the Court attracted a lot of media attention in Mullenix v. Luna, which summarily sided with a police officer accused of using excessive force.
But for all the attention that Mullenix and similar decisions have garnered, the discussion has overlooked a critical procedural issue: when the Court reverses on qualified immunity because relevant law is unclear, what happens to the lower court’s separate determination that the Constitution was violated?
Under the Court’s qualified-immunity cases, there is a strong argument that lower-court merits determinations should remain intact even after the Court reverses on qualified immunity. This conclusion, if adopted, would substantially alter the implications of the Court’s vigorous enforcement of qualified immunity, including its recent use of summary reversals.
A couple weeks ago, I discussed “Supreme Court Signals.” The main vehicles for signaling that I identified were certiorari denials and Justices’ statements during oral argument. This week, Justices sent what look like two more signals, this time in statements respecting denial.
The Court’s new policy of automatically re-listing cert petitions before granting them raises an interesting question: will the Court’s first conference of the new term (the “long conference”) generate any cert grants? This question has some practical importance and also draws attention to the Court’s frequently opaque operating procedures.
The Supreme Court is in recess, so it seems like a good time to raise a boring but important point of judicial administration: the need for public access to court filings.
I think that everyone whose work involves the Court—and there are a lot of us—has at one time or another struggled to understand why the Court doesn’t have a system like PACER. For those who don’t know, PACER has for many years allowed the public to access filings made in the federal district courts and courts of appeals. True, PACER is imperfect in many ways, including because it charges fees for most services. Still, PACER is clearly much better than nothing. Yet no such system exists in the highest court in the land.