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Federal Judiciary: SCOTUSBLOG
Mystery of The Premature Docket Number
By Akin Gump Supreme Court Practice Group
Here?s a piece of Supreme Court minutiae that has always befuddled me. As most know, the Court?s term officially begins the first Monday in October and ends the day before the first Monday of the next October. So when the Court takes the bench on October 5 this year, it will commence the October 2009 Term, which will run until October 3, 2010 (the day before the first Monday in October 2010).
So far, so good. Here?s the mystery: although the new term won?t start for another week yet, the Clerk?s office has been assigning cert. petitions 2009 docket numbers since June 30. (Every petition gets a docket number in the form of ?08-100? where the first two digits designate the term, and the final digits are sequentially assigned as cases get docketed, the paid petitions starting at 1 and the pauper petitions starting at 5000). So docket number 09-1 was assigned on June 30, months before the official start of the 09 Term. To add to the mystery, the Court still treated the oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, No. 08-205 (argued on September 9) as part of the 2008 Term.
After years of head-scratching, we finally just asked. The Court?s Public Information Office informs us that this is a hold-over from the past. Years ago, when the Court handed down its final decisions for the term, usually in late June, it would ?adjourn? for the Term. At that point, the Clerk?s office started numbering new petitions with docket numbers for the new term. Perhaps the thinking was that the docket numbers should reflect that the Court would not be back in session to review the petitions until the new Term.
In more recent times (we?re not exactly sure when the transition took place), the Court changed practice so that it now formally remains in session over the summer, but is simply on ?recess? from the date of the last opinion until the official end of the term the day before the first Monday in October. This is a more accurate description of what is going on, as the Court still rules on emergency motions over the summer, issues one or more orders lists on housekeeping matters (like dispensing with appendices and sharing oral argument), and will meet tomorrow to vote on petitions that accumulated over the summer. And this year, the Court heard re-argument in a case, which was therefore considered part of the ongoing October 2008 Term.
Nonetheless, the Clerk?s office has continued the tradition of starting to assign the new Term?s docket numbers as soon as the Court has handed down its last opinions in June.
So there you have it. Unless Dan Brown comes up with a better explanation (probably involving numerology and freemasonry), that will have to do.
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