The Shadow Docket Book Summary - The Shadow Docket Book explained in key points
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The Shadow Docket summary

Stephen Vladeck

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

4.6 (10 ratings)
15 mins
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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.

    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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