Supreme Court OT13 Preview

I’ve been searching the interwebs for previews of the upcoming SC term and finally found one worth posting.  Two cases are previewed in this article – a 4th amendment case about who may consent to a search of a home and a 1st amendment case about prayer a town board meeting.  Check it out, more previews to come.

Supreme Court Summer Scoop Revealed

During the months when the SC is out of session, the justices tend to tour the country often popping up in small corners of the country to make appearances, give speeches, and enjoy their own summer vacations. Justice Thomas has been known to road trip across the country in an RV with his wife Ginni. Justice Scalia and Ginsburg have traveled together for years. Recently he swapped her for another liberal, petite female justice (Kagan) and went hunting. It’s often during these summer months and out-of-the-Beltway trips that we get  relaxed, less tight-lipped versions of the justices who reveal more than perhaps they realize about the elusive Supreme Court.

Shotgun? Check. Shells? Check. Hunting robes? Check.  Let's do this Elena.

Shotgun? Check. Shells? Check. Hunting robes? Check. Let’s do this Elena.

Take, for instance, the big reveal about the tech-deficient justices as told by Justice Kagan. She revealed herself as one of the few justices who regularly checks and uses email. Describing the justices as “not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people,” she recounted the modes of communication inside the Court have not changed much since she was a clerk in 1987.

Kennedy’s memo to his clerks requesting directions on how to set up his work email account.

Memos are still issued on ivory paper and circulated to the justices – old school.  But then everything about the SC is pretty old school, so this news should surprise no one.

In an appearance in Providence, Rhode Island, Justice Kagan said several of the justices never played a video game but were expected to issue a ruling about them in the Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011) case which challenged whether first amendment protections included violent video games. Not exactly “gamers,” the justices allegedly got to hone their skills on Resident Evil 4 in order to make an informed decision.

The final insight came just yesterday in Adam Liptak’s article for the New York Times.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the current court “one of the most activist in a long time,” citing the Voting Rights Act case (Shelby County v. Holder) as an example.  Ginsburg assured Liptak she’s not leaving the SC any time soon and that the identity of the president is not a factor in her decision to leave, should she elect to retire in the future.

The summer isn’t over, the next term doesn’t start until October, and there’s still plenty of time to hopefully learn more about the justices and the Court.

Podcasts are HERE! ———–>

Every week SupremeBystandr will release a new podcast to engage your judicial curiosity in an alternative, easy-listening, and highly engaging way.  Podcast projects are SB’s labors of love (slight emphasis on labor).  We plan to alternate between recent/upcoming cases and the great cases in history.  Whether you are a student seeking out a quick way to learn the facts and decisions of cases, a commuter with time and a casual interest in a case you’ve always wanted to know more about, an educator looking to save your vocal cords for the day and let us teach a judicial matter, or a legal juggernaut interested in how we laypeople understand and enjoy great cases – All are welcome!

Please enjoy the podcasts, pass them on to others who might enjoy them, and let us know what cases you’re interested in hearing us cover.  We’ll try to meet all requests.  Cheers!

Concurring Opinions – Why you should stop skipping them.

Around the spring or early summer Supreme Court justices announce opinions when they’ve rendered verdicts in cases heard during the Court’s term.  But the word “opinion” can be misleading.  When we laypeople hear “opinion” we are inclined to think it’s a viewpoint, preference, or idea one has, but odds are it’s not grounded in scholarship and might even be completely baseless.  My opinion is that every Wes Anderson movie is head-and-shoulders better than all the movies out there.  It’s not a statement without merits – I’ve seen all his movies, but I’ve not seen all the movies that were ever made and cannot root my argument in something concrete.  The justices issue opinions but they are very much rooted in concrete fact and scholarship from the Constitution and Supreme Court precedents.  My opinions on movies have the weight of whatever value they carry among my peers and family.  The Supreme Courts’ opinions have the weight of law therein affecting all U.S. citizens.  There’s a big difference.

Opinions come down from the court in a vote count of 9-0, 5-4, 7-2, or some variation that usually* adds up to nine.  The majority and dissenters will explain their reasoning in their own written opinions.  However, in most cases, there will be more than two opinions to read.  A justice in the majority might author a secondary opinion, or a concurring opinion, because he or she agreed with the majority but for a different reason.  Another possible reason for a supplemental writing is that the concurring author may have found a different part of the constitution to support why they agreed with the majority.  It’s important to note that technically speaking, only majority opinions set precedents.  No doubt every word that was written in the majority, dissenting, or concurring opinion was chosen with great thought and purpose.

Concurring opinions may seem redundant, but most definitely are not.  A concurring opinion can often explain more about why the majority decided a case or how the justices wrestled with the constitutional issues embedded within the case.  At times, a concurring opinion may portend a decision on a prospective matter. This information is highly valuable to attorneys who could cater future petitions for certiorari and oral arguments in manners that will appeal to certain justices based on what they alluded to in concurring opinions. Lawyers, litigants, interest groups, and Court prognosticators might use language from a concurring opinion to predict how a Supreme Court case will turn out.

Clearly concurring opinions are worthy of more attention and coverage based not only the value they serve in past and potentially future cases, but also in the volume of concurring opinions issued. Take for instance, the recent Supreme Court term:

From SCOTUSblog Stat Pack; June 27, 2013

From SCOTUSblog Stat Pack; June 27, 2013

In the 78 cases the Supreme Court heard this term, 39 concurring opinions were written. Out of 169 opinions written, almost 25% were concurring opinions.  Interestingly, most of the concurring opinions were written by Justice Thomas.

And how did this past term compare to previous terms?

From SCOTUSblog Stat Pack; June 27, 2013

From SCOTUSblog Stat Pack; June 27, 2013

It appears to be on the low-end if we look back at the last thirteen Supreme Court terms. During the 2009 term, there were as many as 65 concurring opinions out of 202 opinions crafted, bringing the average up to 32%.  So, are concurring opinions on the rise?  Not likely as the average of the last thirteen Supreme Court terms has remained fairly static.  Nevertheless, it’s worth noting the relevance and guidance concurring opinions provide are both valuable and too often ignored by impatience and haste.  Rather than skipping past a concurring opinion to get to the dissent, stop to read one to glean answers to the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of the allegedly secretive and mystifying Supreme Court justices and opinions.

*In some cases, justices must recuse themselves from a case if they had any involvement with parties to the case. For example, Justice Kagan recused herself from the affirmative action case Fisher vs. The University of Texas because she was involved with the case at the lower court level. If this happens, the decision ends up being a variation of eight (5-3, 7-1, or possibly even 4-4).