2021 U.S. Supreme Court Reversal Rate Highest in Recent History

During its most recent term, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed 55 of 69 lower court decisions (79.7%) and affirmed 14.

This term’s reversal rate was nine percentage points higher than the average in all cases from 2007 to 2019 (70.7%). 

Sixteen cases originated from the Ninth Circuit, more than any other, including state courts. SCOTUS reversed the Ninth Circuit’s judgment in 15 of those cases.

SCOTUS decides an average of 76 cases each year. The court can either affirm a lower court’s ruling or reverse it.

Most cases originate from a lower court—any one of the 13 federal appeals circuits, U.S. district courts, or state courts.

Original jurisdiction cases, which typically involve disputes between two states, cannot be considered affirmed or reversed since SCOTUS is the first and only court that rules in the case.

Here’s a breakdown of all U.S. Supreme Court activity since 2007:

  • SCOTUS released opinions in 1,062 cases.
  • SCOTUS reversed a lower court decision 751 times (70.7%) and affirmed a lower court decision 303 times (28.5%)
  • 207 cases originated in the Ninth Circuit, more than any other. The Fifth Circuit was next with 79 cases.
  • SCOTUS overturned more cases from the Ninth Circuit (164) than any other, but it overturned the highest percentage of cases from the Sixth Circuit (81.1%, or 60 of 74 cases).

The Term of the Court begins, by law, on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October of the next year.

Each Term, approximately 7,000-8,000 new cases are filed in the Supreme Court. This is a substantially larger volume of cases than was presented to the Court in the last century.

In the 1950 Term, for example, the Court received only 1,195 new cases, and even as recently as the 1975 Term it received only 3,940.

Plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is currently granted in about 80 of those cases each Term, and the Court typically disposes of about 100 or more cases without plenary review.

The publication of each Term’s written opinions, including concurring opinions, dissenting opinions, and orders, can take up thousands of pages. During the drafting process, some opinions may be revised a dozen or more times before they are announced.

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