Former Chief Justice Phillips wrote a letter to the editor responding to the Houston Chronicle’s recent editorial (titled “Backlog”) that had criticized the Court’s practices of having monthly (rather than weekly) conferences and of assigning responsibility for majority opinions by random draw.
With regard to the scheduling of conferences, Phillips says that he suggested a monthly schedule in 1993 after surveying the practices of other supreme courts. He then explains the Court’s return to — and abandonment of — a weekly schedule in recent years:
In 1999, however, the court decided, over my objection, to return to a weekly conference schedule. As I feared, the backlog slowly accumulated over the next few years. In 2004, just before I left the court, the justices adopted my motion to reinstate the monthly schedule. If that decision was wrong, you should blame me, not Jefferson.
And with regard to the random assignment of majority opinions, he takes issue with whether the procedure leads to delay. He also defends the practice as “preventing the danger of various justices holding forth as ‘specialists’ in particular areas of the law.”
That said, Phillips agrees that the Court “has for many years been too slow in its work.” The letter concludes, however, that public discussion of the Court’s procedures can be of benefit “only if the public has accurate information about what it is now doing and why.”