Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Supreme Court Opinions and Opinions About the Court

Our chapter on the Supreme Court discusses how justices deliberate on cases and articulate their views in written opinions. At The New York Times, Adam Liptak writes about unsigned opinions:
Nine times so far this year, the court has issued an unsigned opinion ruling on the merits of a dispute without full briefing or oral argument. Such rulings have been the subject of criticism from practitioners and the legal academy. These critics say it is a mistake to resolve cases without adequate information and deliberation. It is also problematic, they add, to do so anonymously.
The latest critique arrived this month in The Tulane Law Review in an article by Ira P. Robbins, a law professor at American University. It was called “Hiding Behind the Cloak of Invisibility,” and it considered “per curiam” opinions, ones issued “by the court” without indication of authorship. “In the first six years of Chief Justice Roberts’s tenure,” Professor Robbins wrote, “almost 9 percent of the court’s full opinions were per curiams.”
Such opinions suggest that what they have to say is so simple and obvious that no serious judicial effort is needed. Yet not a few unsigned majority opinions have come with dissents. That combination — an unsigned majority decision and a signed dissent — was “an oxymoronic form, one that simultaneously insisted on both institutional consensus and individual disagreement,” Laura Krugman Ray, a law professor at the Widener University School of Law, wrote in 2000 in The Nebraska Law Review.
Two of the current term’s unsigned summary reversals were followed by dissenting opinions, both times from three members of the court’s liberal wing. In one of them, reinstating a California woman’s conviction for shaking her grandson to death, Justice Ginsburg quarreled with both the result and how the court chose to get there.
While serving on a federal appeals court in 1990, Justice Ginsburg wrote that putting a name to an opinion “serves to hold the individual judge accountable” and “puts the judge’s conscience and reputation on the line.” The alternative, Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1822, “is certainly convenient for the lazy, the modest and the incompetent.”
 Previous posts have looked at how Americans regard the judiciary. Liptak and Allison Kopicki write of public opinion about the Court:
Just 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing and three-quarters say the justices’ decisions are sometimes influenced by their personal or political views, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and CBS News.

Those findings are a fresh indication that the court’s standing with the public has slipped significantly in the past quarter-century, according to surveys conducted by several polling organizations. Approval was as high as 66 percent in the late 1980s, and by 2000 approached 50 percent.