Program in Law and Normative Thinking
ABSTRACT: From abortion to affirmative action, gun control to greenhouse gas emissions, and redistricting to religious liberty, the Supreme Court has come to play a central role in virtually every major contemporary public policy debate. And in the last six years, in particular, the Court’s Republican majority has shaped those debates through a growing series of unsigned and unexplained orders—taking more and more advantage of what one conservative scholar in 2015 dubbed “the shadow docket,” the procedural case-management orders that comprise 99% of the Supreme Court’s overall output. But as Professor Stephen Vladeck demonstrates in his new book, the shadow docket is not just a source of problematic behavior by the current justices; it’s central to how the Supreme Court has been given—and has taken—so much power from the political branches over the past century, in marked contrast to the more modest (and more closely regulated) Court contemplated by the Constitution’s drafters. Indeed, as Vladeck explains, it is impossible to understand the increasingly contested role that the Supreme Court plays in American society today without understanding both the history and current scope of the shadow docket. And that understanding is critical not only to clarify exactly what is unique about the current Court’s behavior; it is a necessary predicate to pursuing the kinds of reforms that the Supreme Court truly needs.
Stephen I. Vladeck holds the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law, and is spending the Autumn 2023 quarter as a Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago School of Law. Vladeck is author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Shadow Docket: How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic.” He has argued over a dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas Supreme Court, and various lower federal civilian and military courts; has testified before numerous congressional committees, Executive Branch agencies, and the Texas legislature; has served as an expert witness both in U.S. state and federal courts and in foreign tribunals; and has received numerous awards for his influential and widely cited legal scholarship, his prolific popular writing, his teaching, and his service to the legal profession. Together with Dean Bobby Chesney, Vladeck hosts the popular and award-winning “National Security Law Podcast.” He is CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and a co-author of Aspen Publishers’ leading national security law and counterterrorism law casebooks. And he is editor and author of “One First,” a popular weekly newsletter about the Supreme Court. Vladeck received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2004, and his B.A. summa cum laude with Highest Distinction in History and Mathematics from Amherst College in 2001.
- University Center for Human Values
- Department of Politics