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Study Shows SG's Influence In Certs Granted

Publication Date: 
June 16, 2009
The National Law Journal
Marcia Coyle

Lecturer in Law Thomas C. Goldstein is quoted in The National Law Journal in an article about a study done by Melanie Wachtell '07 and David Thompson '07, two former participants in the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, who decided to study how certs are granted. The upshot was a paper An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Certiorari Petition Procedures: The Call for Response and the Call for the Views of the Solicitor General (pdf):

David Thompson, currently a clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, and Melanie Wachtell, policy director for the nonprofit Tobin Project, are both Stanford Law graduates who participated in the law school's Supreme Court clinic. "We decided we were interested in writing a paper, and we felt if we were going to embark on a long paper to be published in a legal journal, we wanted it to be something that really contributed," recalled Wachtell.

Law professors are generally "leaps and bounds" ahead of law students in writing about nuances in the law, she added. "We felt an empirical analysis would be more fitting." She and Thompson met with Thomas Goldstein, co-chair of the Supreme Court practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, who also teaches in the Stanford clinic, and asked him for his "wish list" of questions about practicing in the high court. "Among other things he brought up, he said little empirical work had been done on CFRs and CVSGs," said Wachtell. "We compiled this novel and extensive database and interviewed about a dozen Supreme Court specialists, asking those folks what were their most pressing, unanswered questions."


Akin Gump's Goldstein agreed, saying, "The CFR and CVSG processes are such a mystery. Few practitioners deal with them regularly, and even those who do generally don't know what to make of them. I think it's particularly useful to know the correlation between the Court using those procedures and the prospect of a cert. grant."

In the article ("An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Certiorari Petition Procedures: The Call for Response and the Call for the Views of the Solicitor General" (pdf)), Thompson and Wachtell created a dataset describing every cert petition filed in the Court from October Term '01 through October Term '04. The CFR data cover more than 31,000 petitions, with 30 different variables for each petition, containing nearly 1 million total points of data.

They also analyzed a CVSG dataset describing every petition in which the Court called for the views of the solicitor general from October Term '92 through October Term '04 -- including the complete docket and an analysis of the solicitor general's brief for all cases between OT '97 and OT '04.