he North Carolina Supreme Court, the highest state court, issues legal opinions that have a critical impact onNorth Carolinians. Nevertheless, very little information is made widely available about the Court’s work.This
report provides useful information about the Court’s work that is probably unfamiliar evento most attorneys in the state. It includes how often justices agree with each other and the reversal rate of Court of Appeals decisions. The goal of this report is not to draw broad conclusions, but to present this information to readersand make some objective observations based on it.
he ourt’s Worload
Table 1 shows the total number of merit opinions from 2006 to 2010. A “merit opinion” does not necessarily havea formal denition, but for this report, it covers the number of cases where the Court issued an opinion answering alegal question in a case (as opposed to, for example, cases that are dismissed on procedural grounds).
able 1: N.. upreme ourt Worload, B year (2006–10)
Total Merit Opinions7878806459Merit opinions in this report include the total number of cases listed in the Court’s own annual list of opinions.In any given year, a very small number of cases have been excluded; for example, cases dismissed as moot and otheropinions that did not address a legal question in a case.
Over the ve-year period studied (2006–10), the North Carolina Supreme Court’s productivity signicantly de-clined in terms of merit opinions. Scott Gaylord, an associate professor of law at Elon University, calculated (usingdifferent methodology from that used in this report) that the Court’s productivity between 2007 and 2009 “actually hasgone down signicantly since 1998–2000.”
he Basis for the ourt Hearing ases
The North Carolina Supreme Court can hear a case “by right” (the Court is required to hear the case by statute)
or it may choose to take a case that it is not required to hear (discretionary review).
The most common reason theCourt is required to hear a case is when the North Carolina Court of Appeals issues a split decision on the case. If theNorth Carolina Court of Appeals issues a unanimous opinion, the North Carolina Supreme Court may, upon its owndiscretion and within statutory limits, hear the case.
able 2: he Reasons the N.. upreme ourt Heard ases, B year (2006–10)
Total Merit Opinions7878806459
Cases by right
Cases by discretionary review
1622101720The Court mostly hears cases by right; however, the number of cases by right went down signicantly over theve-year period studied (see Table 2). This decline suggests that the Court of Appeals is issuing fewer split decisions.During this same time, there is no trend showing an increase in the number of cases the Court is taking upon discre-tionary review.