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I am wondering whether there is any formal (I could not find one) or informal (e. g. custom) limit on the time that the U. S. Supreme Court can take from the date when a case enters the docket (alternatively: from the time certiorari is granted) to the date when it renders a decision. Could a case theoretically remain on the docket for years before it is decided?

Do the terms have any significance for this question - i. e. would it be strange if the court grants certiorari this term but only decides the case on its merits next term?

  • There's certainly been cases of very fast decisions (for example, Bush v Gore) but I can't think of any they've specifically dragged out. – corsiKa Nov 21 '15 at 20:39
  • I know of a US District Court case in which the judge took several years to rule. I do not know if the Supreme Court operates under different rules. – user3270 Nov 22 '15 at 0:22
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    @user3270 The nature of the Supreme Court makes that unlikely. A trial court needs to do things like have both sides gather evidence and present it in court. The Supreme Court isn't there to hear a full case; they resolve a few specific questions of law, deferring to the trial court on the facts of the case. The Supreme Court occasionally acts as a trial court, although under different rules than when they're an appellate court. – cpast Nov 22 '15 at 1:37
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There have been instances where the US Supreme Court has held over cases to the next term, and instances where they ordered a case re-argued in the next term. Brown vs Board of Education was a particularly well known case that was reargued. I believe that such occasions are rare, and that the court makes a significant effort to decide each case in the same term where certiorari is granted.

More often, the Justices decide, after granting certiorari, that this was a mistake, and dismiss the case altogether. The phrase used is that the writ is "dismissed as improvidently granted" or "DIGed". This has the same ultimate effect as if certiorari had never been granted -- the lower court decision is left standing, and no Supreme Court precedent is created. This is still fairly rare.

To the best of my knowledge there is no rule requiring decision within any specific time, but I have never heard of a case held over for more than one term.

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