INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER• An acclaimed legal scholar’s “essential” (Linda Greenhouse) 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.
"[The shadow docket] has been something that lawyers have been talking about for a long time; it’s really important for all of us to understand it.”
“Important…Vladeck is a conscientious guide through the legal thickets…With The Shadow Docket, Vladeck has taken it upon himself to translate the court’s deliberately cryptic orders and legal technicalities into accessible English.”
—The New York Times
“Mr. Vladeck offers a fascinating chronicle of the shadow docket’s rise…The author’s skill as a law professor shines in thorough, clear explanations of how the court has run roughshod over its own jurisprudence in shadow-docket cases involving abortion, religious liberty and election law…the illumination in The Shadow Docketcould help bring more principle, accountability, and ‘procedural regularity’ to the justices work —and help stop a controversial institution going completely off the rails.”
“Vladeck offers a well-researched indictment of how the supreme court has grown to rely on using procedural orders rather than rulings to make new law, escaping scrutiny while delivering major victories to the political right…The Shadow Docket is comprehensive and sensitive to nuance, written for concerned audiences.”
“As a court observer, Vladeck is a phenomenon….The Shadow Docket is a work of profound respect for a Court he plainly loves…The Shadow Docket is an important book for anyone who wants a deep understanding of the way the post-Trump Court is moving to reshape the law. Vladeck is a clear and engaging writer.”—Washington Monthly
“People who care about the court and what it’s doing should read this.”
“The most important recent book attempting to answer the burning question, ‘How did we get into this mess?’”—Esquire.com
"persuasive and timely...Critics of the current court will find much to ponder in Vladeck’s account."—Kirkus Review
“An expert study…. This insightful and accessible account raises an important alarm.”
“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