According to a study by appellate attorney Adam Chandler, conservative groups utterly dominate the game of seeking to influence which cases the Supreme Court hears. Although the Supreme Court receives about 9,000–10,000 petitions a year seeking their review of a case, only a tiny fraction of these petitions are granted — this year, for example, the Court will only hear 77 cases with full briefing and oral argument. So often the most decision the justices make in a case is the decision to hear it in the first place. There are many views that five justices would support if forced to express their opinion, but that is no guarantee that those views will someday make their way into a Supreme Court opinion.
In light of this fact, conservative organizations have clearly made a significant investment in trying to make sure cases that favor their views catch the justices eye. Eight of the ten most frequent filers of amicus briefs seeking to influence which cases are heard by the Court are solidly on the right:
Three of the top ten groups — the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Businesses — are Republican-aligned business lobbies. DRI represents attorneys who themselves represent big business. Cato is an anti-government think tank that believes Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional. Pacific Legal Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation and the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence are all right-wing litigation shops, the later of which was founded by one of America’s leading anti-gay attorneys.
Only one group in the top ten, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), is arguably a left-leaning organization — but even this organization works closely with conservative legal groups to reduce “overcriminalization” of activities approved of by conservatives. In any event, while eliminating unnecessary crimes, promoting sensible sentencing and similar goals are certainly important, NACDL’s work on behalf of the criminal defense bar is narrowly focused on goals related to criminal justice — and thus they can hardly provide a counterbalance to the Chamber’s corporate advocacy or to Cato’s efforts to destroy the health care safety net.
There are a number of possible explanations for why conservatives completely dominate this area of Supreme Court litigation, the most obvious of which is that massive corporations and right-wing billionaires simply have more money to throw at hiring lawyers with the skills and influence to convince the justices to take a case. Even relatively prosperous left-of-center groups, however, likely stay out of this game because of the Roberts Court’s conservatism. Indeed, the Chamber isn’t just the top filer of amicus briefs asking the Court to hear cases, the corporate lobbying group is also one of the most successful litigants — if not the most successful litigant — before the Supreme Court.