Shadow docket is typically used as a critical name for what’s sometimes officially known as the orders docket—one of the two dockets of cases and other matters addressed by the US Supreme Court each year. In contrast to the Court’s primary docket (known as the merits docket), the decisions rendered via the orders docket typically do not involve oral arguments, lengthy written opinions by the Supreme Court justices, or a public record of the personal votes of each justice. The orders docket has historically been used as a docket for low-profile matters, including procedural issues and the rejection of emergency claims. Referring to the orders docket as the shadow docket is intended to imply criticism of the use of this docket to rule on important and often controversial matters that would otherwise be handled more publicly and transparently via the merits docket. It typically implies the belief that such use is an abuse of the system. When did shadow docket gain use?The term shadow docket started to gain use after 2015, when court observers began to note a significant increase in the number of important and controversial cases decided via the orders docket, leading to criticism from legal scholars and some politicians, notably Democrats. The term gained more mainstream awareness and use in September 2021 after the Supreme Court issued a decision via the orders docket declining to hear challenges to an extremely controversial Texas abortion law.
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