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An acclaimed legal scholar’s “insightful and accessible” (Publishers Weekly) exposé of the Supreme Court’s increasing use of unsigned, unexplained orders to change the law—all behind closed doors
The Supreme Court has always had the authority to issue emergency rulings in exceptional circumstances. But since 2017, the Court has dramatically expanded its use of the behind-the-scenes “shadow docket,” regularly making decisions that affect millions of Americans without public hearings and without explanation, through cryptic late-night rulings that leave lawyers—and citizens—scrambling.
The Court’s conservative majority has used the shadow docket to green-light restrictive voting laws and bans on abortion, and to curtail immigration and COVID vaccine mandates. But Americans of all political stripes should be worried about what the shadow docket portends for the rule of law, argues Supreme Court expert Stephen Vladeck. In this rigorous yet accessible book, he issues an urgent call to bring the Court back into the light.
About the Author
Stephen Vladeck holds the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at the University of Texas School of Law. His work has been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate. He has argued before the Supreme Court and has been CNN's Supreme Court Analyst since 2013. Vladeck lives in Austin, Texas.
“An expert study…. This insightful and accessible account raises an important alarm.” —Publishers Weekly
“In The Shadow Docket, Steve Vladeck tells an urgent story about an arcane aspect of American law that has momentous implications for a host of pressing political issues—and for the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself. In elegant, accessible prose, Vladeck exposes the degree to which significant battles, from abortion to immigration, are being adjudicated behind closed doors, in unseen, unsigned, unexplained decisions. This is a powerful work of argument and explication, and a call for a return to transparency and accountability in the decision making of our highest court.” —Patrick Radden Keefe, author of Empire of Pain
"The Supreme Court's polling numbers and legitimacy have taken a nosedive in recent years, but the cases it hands down are only part of the problem. The stuff that happens in the shadows is equally alarming, and nobody has been better at explaining these shadow matters than Steve Vladeck. Tackling intricate procedural questions, Vladeck makes absolutely plain that — to repurpose an old adage — procedure isn't just the handmaid of justice, it's now her lord and master. We ignore what happens in the shadows at our peril."—Dahlia Lithwick, author of Lady Justice
“Stephen Vladeck shines a harsh light on a little-understood SCOTUS sleight of hand — the shadow docket. Vladeck describes in clear and convincing language how the highest court in the land has increasingly used obscure procedural orders to shift the legal landscape to the right, at the expense of transparency, precedent, and fundamental rights. It is vital reading.”—Preet Bharara, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
"Steve Vladeck uses his intimate knowledge of the Supreme Court to show how the conservative justices are manipulating the court's docket to maximize their power and achieve their desired outcomes. The Shadow Docket is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how today's court really works."—Linda Greenhouse, author of Justice On the Brink
“The best thing you can say about a Supreme Court book is that you learned something, and I learned a ton. Vladeck cogently describes the perhaps well-meant but insidious way that the Supreme Court, in liberal as well as conservative times, slowly eroded the legal levers that prevented the Court from engineering its own agenda.”—Nina Totenberg, award-winning legal affairs correspondent, NPR