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Stephen Vladeck

How the Supreme Court Uses Stealth Rulings to Amass Power and Undermine the Republic

4.5 (13 ratings)
15 mins

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The Shadow Docket by Stephen Vladeck sheds light on the secretive side of the U.S. Supreme Court, exploring its use of emergency orders and their impact on the justice system and the rule of law.

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    The Shadow Docket
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    The shadow docket is the agenda for the Court’s many procedural decisions

    So, what is the shadow docket, exactly? There are a few types of decisions that fall under this category. One occurs when the Supreme Court agrees to take a case, hear arguments, and issue a formal ruling. This is what’s known as granting certiorari

    Issuing injunctions is another part of the shadow docket. This is when the Supreme Court orders a party, such as a plaintiff or a lower court, to start or stop what they’re doing. In practice, this can mean striking down a law while litigation is ongoing, or compelling lower courts to keep the law in place. While these choices may appear mundane and inconsequential on the surface, they can make a major difference in the law. 

    These shadow docket rulings constitute a whopping 99 percent of the Supreme Court’s decisions. But sheer volume isn’t the main issue. It’s that these rulings are delivered anonymously and without explanation. All the Court has to provide is a one-sentence declaration, and their dictums carry weight.

    Another issue is the nature of these rulings. Since the Supreme Court first convened in 1790, there have, of course, been many procedural rulings. But the kinds of rulings made today are different. 

    Since the mid-2010s, Vladeck argues, the shadow docket has been used to change the law in major ways. From elections to immigration to capital punishment, shadow docket decisions have shifted several aspects of the law to the political right. And while it’s one thing for the Court to rule “on the merits” one way or the other, using these procedural decisions to transform American law is an abuse of the Court’s authority.

    In the next section, we’ll look at practical examples of how Vladeck believes the shadow docket has been abused for partisan gain.

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    What is The Shadow Docket about?

    The Shadow Docket (2022) explores the Supreme Court’s growing abuse of its shadow docket – the procedural rulings it issues, often anonymously and without explanation. Since the mid-2010s, the conservative wing of the Court has increasingly relied on this opaque tactic to empower Republican administrations, influence elections, and transform the law in ways that threaten their own legitimacy.

    The Shadow Docket Review

    The Shadow Docket (2022) by Stephen Vladeck sheds light on the secretive legal system that operates within the United States Supreme Court. Here are three reasons why this book is a must-read:

    • With meticulous research and in-depth analysis, Vladeck reveals the inner workings of the shadow docket, uncovering its implications for American democracy.
    • By delving into real-life cases and their consequences, the author offers a fascinating exploration of the often unseen power wielded by the Supreme Court.
    • Vladeck's clear and accessible writing style makes the book both informative and engaging, allowing readers to grasp complex legal concepts without feeling overwhelmed.

    Who should read The Shadow Docket?

    • Citizens affected by the Supreme Court’s decisions
    • Students curious about the court system
    • Anyone interested in the rule of law

    About the Author

    Stephen Vladeck is the Chair of Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law. He has argued more than a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, and his work has appeared in legal journals such as the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. He is currently a Supreme Court analyst for CNN.

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    The Shadow Docket FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Shadow Docket?

    The main message of The Shadow Docket is an exploration of secret Supreme Court decisions.

    How long does it take to read The Shadow Docket?

    The reading time for The Shadow Docket varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Shadow Docket a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Shadow Docket is a compelling read that sheds light on secret Supreme Court decisions, making it worth your time.

    Who is the author of The Shadow Docket?

    The author of The Shadow Docket is Stephen Vladeck.

    What to read after The Shadow Docket?

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