The Business of State Supreme Courts, Revisited



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 4, Issue 3, 675, Article first published online: 11 September 2007

  • Data employed in the analysis below were collected by Paul Brace and Melinda Gann Hall with support from the National Science Foundation (Grant SBR9617190). Additional data were collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for State Courts, and were obtained through the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research.

*Herbert M. Kritzer, William Mitchell College of Law, 875 Summit Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105; email: Brace is in the Department of Political Science at Rice University; email: Hall is in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University; email: Boyea is in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington; email:


In this research note we employ data from the State Supreme Court Data Project to update Kagan et al.'s study of the docket composition of state supreme courts. Our analysis shows that many of the patterns of change described by Kagan et al. continued through the 20th century: debt and real property continued to decline and criminal continued to increase. However, other patterns of change either reversed or halted. Specifically, neither torts nor family cases have continued to increase; torts have stabilized and family cases, rather than increasing, have declined. The most surprising shift is the sharp increase in “other contract,” which had no particular pattern in the earlier data, but that represented 5 percent or less of the courts' business; in the 1990s, “other contracts” had grown to a level approaching that of public law, and exceeding real property and family and estate cases.