The New York Times has dubbed summary reversal as a “favorite tool” of the Roberts Court. There’s speculation the Supreme Court may use it in a Citizens United sequel. By contrast, California courts use summary reversal very sparingly.
Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, California courts use summary reversal only on those very rare occasions when the court is faced with a patently erroneous judgment. For example, a California appellate court may grant a summary reversal when the issue has already been decided by the California Supreme Court:
- In Melancon v Walt Disney Prods. (1954) 127 CA2d 213, 273 P2d 560, the appellate court said that nothing could be gained by denying the motion for summary reversal because the issue on appeal had been previously determined adversely to appellant by the California Supreme Court in a related matter.
- In People v Geitner (1982) 139 CA3d 252, 254, 188 CR 486, the court granted a motion for summary reversal in a case in which reversal was compelled by a decision of the California Supreme Court, explaining that “this procedure would effect a more ‘speedy determination of [the] appeal.'” 139 CA3d at 254.
Further compelling the rarity of summary reversal in California is the constitutional right to oral argument in both civil and criminal appeals. People v Pena (2004) 32 C4th 389, 9 CR3d 107. This means that the appellate court’s power to reverse can be exercised only after oral argument has been held or waived.
It will be interesting to watch whether the current U.S. Supreme Court’s favored use of summary reversal will rub off on the California appellate courts.
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