Adam Liptak’s latest Sidebar column in the NYT highlights a new study [pdf] conducted by the Chief Supervising Attorney of the Supreme Court of California, Jake Dear, and Edward Jessen, the Reporter of Judicial Decisions in California. The study, published in the UC Davis Law Review, finds that California’s Supreme Court is the most “followed” state court in the country.
Using the Shephard’s signal “followed by”, the study determined that from 1940-2005, state court decisions were “followed” approximately 24, 400 times by courts in other states. California leads the pack with 1260 such decisions. When you narrow the field to decisions followed 3 times and 5 times, California is still number one.
In each category, California beats New York handily, by 160 to 39 for three or more followed cases and by 45 to 6 for five or more. The race has tightened a little, though, in the last 20 years.
Connecticut is in the top half of the list, having its decisions followed at least once 508 times, three or more follows 28 times (putting it 18th on that list) and five or more follows 3 times.
I understand that Law Reviews have to fill their pages and someone somewhere is curious about almost everything, but does this study actually help? In other words – so what?
In writing an appellate brief (and those that are far more experienced than me, feel free to chime and tell me how wrong I am), you first seek citations from within your own jurisdiction and perhaps include cases on point from other jurisdictions in a string cite. Only when there’s nothing on point in your own state do you need to look to other states (and even then, perhaps you’d look to your federal circuit court first). And even then, you would cite the sister state opinions you want your court to follow, but the number of times that opinion has been followed by other states may or may not be included in your brief. Wouldn’t you instead just cite to the other state decisions? That can easily be found by Shepardizing the opinion you’re relying on.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see the point of this study – other than to say “look at us”. Maybe there is no point other than to satisfy idle curiosity. Is there a point? What am I missing?
Just seems like the equivalent of whipping out the ruler and comparing.
Update: As Scott rightly points out in the comments, why is this even a column worthy of print in the NYT? Isn’t there something else going on in the legal world? Like, I don’t know, Elliot Spitzer’s mess or the absolute quagmire that is Georgia’s indigent defense system? Have we even seen a column from him on that? Or anyone in the NYT?
Also, in hindsight, I think a cleverer title may have been “The long arm of the law”. In fact, I’m going to go change it now.