Short Story: Shadow docket?

Source. Pexels. Nadi Lindsay, Photographer

by LJ Frank

The office atmosphere was one of intellectual rigor with a hint of nostalgia. Two long walls with floor to ceiling ranges of shelves were filled with books on jurisprudence that included case law, dictionaries, and ancillary reference works, along with a myriad of works piled in separate stacks on a conference table. There were two computers, a desktop on a separate small table for professional research and a personal laptop laying at one end of a large walnut executive desk near a window. A distinguished looking individual sat at the desk. It should be noted there were no framed photos, family or otherwise in the office, save one. It was yellowed black and white photo of a man and woman with the year 1940 printed on the back. The customary flagpole and flag hanging from it was standing in a corner. As an interesting side notation, there was an oversized canvas of an abstract painting that appeared as an exotic version of Guernica, though it wasn’t a Pablo Picasso antiwar work. Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade was softly playing in the background.

A telephone call and a voice said, “The colleague from your alma mater is here to see you.” 

It was mid-morning as a somewhat distraught looking colleague entered the office. 

“Did you get chance to look at it?” The colleague entering the office asked.

“It?” Scratching their forehead, looking at the colleague, “Oh, that…. Yeah. I did look late yesterday afternoon. Let’s not make a big deal out of it. God knows we have enough on our plate.” 

“Well…you know things can get untidy in quick fashion.”

“What do you mean?”

“How about moral ambiguity?”

“Is this satire? 

“What do you think?”

“Get real. Spoke with an official from congress and a lobbyist of sorts, late last night. We don’t need public exposure on all our decisions or rulings, do we? Of course not.”

“Well …you know a while back this fellow from the Midwest…University of Chicago Law School I believe wrote that thing. Really can’t keep track of these people. Anyways…he wrote…”

“I’ve heard of him. Who really reads that stuff? Still, we must be careful. We can’t appear to have outlived our credibility.” 

“The scholarly article read almost like a legal brief…about the nature of our decision making and so forth. I mean…it still bothers me.”

“Well, if something goes wrong, we’ll know who to cast our glances towards. What did that guy from the Midwest call what we were doing?”

“Shadow docket. It refers to decisions exterior to the formal opinions related to the hearing of oral arguments. It’s helps circumvent standard operating procedure which can be quite lengthy. It helps assuage issues particularly, if considered of an emergency nature…where immediate relief is deemed significant or not. It’s all temporary, but?

“But what?” 

“As you know, temporary can and does in any number of instances become permanent. It’s a short cut to get around the court system, eclipsing full consideration and the usual legal procedures.”


“You want specifics?” 

“No. I know what they are. The regular legal process can take months and years. Too long for certain issues. We only have so much time.”

“What about careful deliberation and transparency?”

“Oh please. Same old same old. When were we ever transparent? Besides you and I know there’s value and power in opaqueness.”

“Amusing. And the politics?”

“Politics? We’re apolitical. As you may or may not know I have used the acronym PEE for my civic involvement.” 

“PEE? Sounds rather defiling and somewhat disgusting.”

“Don’t be a prude. It stands for Professional Evening Engagement.”

“Good gracious.”

“Anything else?”

“And to the point of engagements, your assistant mentioned to me to remind you about a call from a certain senator’s spouse.”

“Oh…hm…thanks for reminding me…”

“A Shadow Docket or PEE or both?”

“You could say that.”

*Shadow docket