Every year, a few Supreme Court cases make big headlines. Headline cases generally involve major constitutional issues or key disputes between actors on the socio-political stage or some other kind of drama that rivets the attention of the mainstream media. Such media attention can help educate the public of important legal issues, but it can also distort public perception of the Court. For the truth is that most cases decided by the Court every year do not burn with drama. Considered as a whole, the Court’s yearly docket trends obscure and dry. Yet for SCOTUS die hards, even non-headline case material is fascinating.
If you are a die-hard, then you should check out two collections of doctrinal networks that we curate here at the SCOTUS Mapping Project. These collections give you a way to see the big picture of the Court’s docket — not just the headline grabbing major cases (though the networks can help you with those cases too). The first collection covers every case decided by the Court in its 2014 Term. The second collection covers the current 2015 Term — and it is regularly updated as the Court releases new opinions.
The two collections follow the same basic format. The collection is a sortable table where each row represents one case decided in the 2014 or 2015 Term. For each case, a doctrinal network has been created by connecting the new SCOTUS case to an earlier one (the “network anchor”). Links to the doctrinal network saved on CourtListener are provided, as are links to the relevant SCOTUSBlog entry for each case. Each row names the law at issue in a particular case and also features data on the size and degree of dissent for the doctrinal network.
The only formal difference between the 2014 Term collection and the 2015 Term collection concerns scope. I defined the 2014 Term collection based on all the cases from that term that were coded by the Supreme Court Database (aka Spaeth) — 71 cases. Since the Spaeth entries for the current 2015 Term are not yet available, I am simply creating a network for every opinion released by the Court on its 2015 Term Opinions webpage. (This difference in scope has resulted in a few anomalies in the 2015 Term collection for in cases when the Court releases one-line “opinions.” Such opinions — like those where the judgment below is affirmed by an equally divided Court or where the writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted — do not cite precedent and cannot be used to create a doctrinal network.)
Between the two collections, there are now over 100 maps of SCOTUS doctrinal networks. Some networks are very small — such as the two-case network in the 2015 Term case OBB Personenverkehr. Some networks are YUGE — such as the 68-case network from last Term’s Obergefell blockbuster. Whether small, large, or somewhere in between, the choice of network anchor is justified in the “Description” field for each network so that readers can judge for themselves the validity and/or usefulness of the precedent map. And of course, the network also provides direct links the the full text of all opinions and to the Spaeth entry for all the cases (barring the as-yet uncoded 2015 Term cases themselves).
In short, there is plenty to look at and explore. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or ideas about how to improve these collections.by