It turns out that the data set isn’t sufficiently rich to do meaningful inter-CCA analysis of oral argument practice. Disturbingly, one of the best sources of information about the CCAs’ oral argument practice is our TWIMJ. But we’ve only been running that feature in a systematic way since 23 November 2008. Once we’ve been tracking the CCAs’ oral argument practice through TWIMJ for a longer time, we may be able to make some meaningful statistical observations. Future analysis will also be aided by ACCA’s move in late February 2009 to include summary dispositions on its web site. Analysis would be further aided if NMCCA would indicate on its opinions when the case was orally argued — as ACCA seems to do and as AFCCA usually, but not invariably, does. And we’d be nearing military justice wonk heaven if NMCCA would follow the practice of every other CCA and every Article III court and make all of its opinions available online.
In the meantime, the scant available data suggest some questions even if they don’t reveal answers. Are there differences in the way CCAs respond to oral argument requests from retained counsel versus oral argument requests from military or civil service counsel? We’ve noted that AFCCA decided two cases without ruling on oral argument requests this year — one from military appellate defense counsel and one from a DOD-employed civilian counsel (me). On the other hand, three of the seven oral arguments AFCCA has heard this term are in cases where the request came from retained civilian counsel.
Perhaps it’s also useful to ask what percentage of argued cases result in published opinions and what percentage of published cases were orally argued. Interestingly, in three of the four cases in which NMCCA has heard oral argument this term and has issued an opinion, the opinion was published. For AFCCA, that statistic is two out of six. With the limitations on the existing data set, it isn’t apparent what the figure is going the other way — i.e., how many of the 22 published CCA opinions issued thus far in calendar year 2009 arose from cases that were orally argued. (I know that seven were, but it’s possible that the number is higher and perhaps even much higher.)
It also appears that a large percentage of cases in which the United States is seeking relief (i.e., Article 62 appeals and petitions for extraordinary relief in which the government is the petitioner) are orally argued. However, in one Article 62 appeal decided by the Air Force Court this year, the court denied a motion for oral argument before ultimately ruling for the government. (That means that AFCCA has denied at least three requests for oral argument this year while hearing a total of seven oral arguments.)
What is probably the most interesting statistic isn’t available from the available data and won’t be available even as that data set fills out over time: in what percentage of cases do the various CCAs deny requests for oral argument and are there any statistically significant factors that correlate with such denied requests?
Looking for apparent correlations between oral argument and outcome will have to await the development of a much larger data set.
In the meantime, can anyone provide us with anecdotal evidence of why ACCA will hear almost three times as many oral arguments during the first half of this year compared to NMCCA, even though those two courts’ dockets are roughly the same size? Here’s an interesting statistic — NMCCA has heard oral argument in 2009 in just three Article 66 appeals. (The other two cases in which it’s heard oral argument were Article 62 appeals.) Has it denied requests for oral argument in Article 66 appeals? Or are counsel almost never asking? Another interesting stat in thinking about the difference between ACCA’s practice and NMCCA’s practice: even though the number of cases that the two courts received for docketing last fiscal year are comparable (ACCA = 867; NMCCA = 852), the percentage of the appellate docket devoted to SPECIAL courts-martial is almost twice as great for NMCCA (76%) as for ACCA (39%). (For AFCCA, the incoming cases were split almost down the middle — 159 GCMs and 156 SPCMs.) Does the higher percentage of GCMs on ACCA’s docket help to explain the difference? Perhaps. Interestingly, of the five cases orally argued at NMCCA this year, all were GCMs. Of the seven cases orally argued at AFCCA this year, five were GCMs. Obviously it would also be useful to know the breakdown of contested cases versus guilty pleas on the Big Three CCAs’ dockets.
So lots of questions, no answers.