A few weeks back, I did a post on a day in the life of an appellate lawyer. I was delighted to find a (somewhat more restrained) companion piece in Leesburg Today, which ran a Q&A with Justice Mims last Friday.
Justice Mims answered a number of questions, including “Describe a typical day in the life of a Supreme Court justice.” His response:
There are many days that are typical for different reasons. We hear cases on their merits six times each year for one week. So, during a one-week period we will hear more than two dozen cases. During the days, or for the better part of a month prior to those court weeks, most of our time is spent reading the briefs, reviewing the documents in the appellate record and doing our own legal research based upon what we have learned from the briefs and record. When those cases are argued we know the facts and the law quite well and consequently the argument moves very quickly during the 30 minutes that are allotted to each of the cases. For weeks after the case is argued we are writing our opinions. Typically a justice has three opinions to write on average following each court week. That is a lengthy and careful process. Each opinion will go through multiple drafts before being released, typically about two months after the case is argued. That process of preparation, argument and opinion writing takes up most of our time but we also have to decide which cases to hear on the merits. We will read briefs and hear in summary fashion more than 100 cases in order to decide which two dozen or so will be briefed fully and argued on their merits. That is known as the writ process because the document which is filed by the appellant is a writ of appeal and we have to review that writ and hear a short argument from the appellant in order to decide whether to grant the writ and hear the appeal on its merits. There are hundreds of cases that pass by the court each year in order to determine the 150 or so that will ultimately be decided on the merits. Additionally, there are motions to re-hear from those whose writ was not granted or whose appeal was denied. And likewise there are a small number of cases that come to the court as part of its original jurisdiction. Those are cases involving what are known as writs of mandamus and writs of prohibition and also writs of habeas corpus in criminal matters. Finally there are administrative responsibilities. The court has administrative oversight responsibilities for the local court system so there are responsibilities that are administrative in nature as well as disciplinary proceedings that come to us and various other matters that fill up the day and the week.
Administrative oversight responsibilities? Disciplinary proceedings? Frankly, my day sounds like more fun.
But it’s not all bad on the high court. The substantive work is quite appealing, and it clearly comprises the bulk of the job. Further, when Justice Mims was asked what’s been the biggest surprise for him, he said that nothing was particularly surprising–but he did find “most notable” “the quality of the legal arguments that are made, both in briefs and in oral arguments. The issues are extraordinarily well developed and asserted.”