A statistical review of the 2022-2023 Iowa Supreme Court term
August 22, 2023
By: Matthew A. McGuire, Spencer S. Cady, Chris Slack
[This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of The Iowa Lawyer magazine.]
In our analysis of the 2020-2021 Iowa Supreme Court term, published in the August 2021 issue of the Iowa Lawyer, we examined the impact of the appointment of four new justices between 2018 and 2020 upon the Court’s statistical trends. Back then, in 2021, we concluded the data showed that “the predictable justice alignments of the last decade are a thing of the past.” During the Court’s 2022-2023 term, however, we began to question that assessment.
A statistical analysis of the 2022-23 term reveals certain emerging trends with respect to which justices are more likely to agree or disagree with one another. What’s more, the particular fault lines revealed in the data overlap with the particular outcomes in individual high-profile cases from this most recent term. However, the data available for analysis provides the smallest sample yet as a result of the 2022-23 terms’ most noteworthy statistical trend: This term featured the highest proportion of unanimous case outcomes, by far, in many years.
Opinions by the numbers
The 2022-2023 term of the Iowa Supreme Court concluded on June 30. This term, the Court decided 96 cases by opinion, a number that is about 10 percent lower than the recent historical average. Seventy-seven of these cases were decided unanimously, while only 19 cases were non-unanimous. Since the 2017-2018 term, about 35% of all appeals were decided on a divided (non-unanimous) opinion, and no fewer than 29% in any term during that period. This term, fewer than 20% of the cases decided by the Court did not command a unanimous Court. This is a striking decline from prior terms.