Summary Reversals by the Supreme Court
Other than Citizens United, the most interesting trend of the Supreme Court’s term thus far is the increasing use of summary reversals (in other words, a decision on the merits without full briefing or argument). These are not cases where the Court is just doing a GVR (“Grant, Vacate, and Remand”) in light of a recent decision. Instead, they must be situations where the Justices think that the lower court was so wrong that only a brief per curiam opinion is necessary for reversal and that adding the case to its docket would be a waste of time.
My sense is that this is not a positive development. Since the grant of certiorari discretion in 1925, it has become axiomatic that the Supreme Court is not in the error correction business. But that’s what summary reversals are. If the legal issues involved are sufficiently important to merit the Court’s attention, then they should also be significant enough to deserve full briefing and argument. Many lawyers criticize the Court for not taking enough cases, but I don’t think the summary reversal procedure is what they had in mind.