A Guide to How Supreme Court Opinions Work


Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark decision, has come under fire in recent months. A leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito would overturn a 49-year-old precedent protecting the right to abortion in the United States.

That’s if the majority of the Supreme Court signs this opinion in favor of Mississippi’s state law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

This document published Monday by Politico has no immediate effect on access to abortion. The court is expected to issue its official decision in June.

The leak also raises questions about how U.S. Supreme Court opinions are rendered and overturned.

Here’s a guide to how opinions work. You have more questions ? Let us know by filling out this form or by contacting our reporter, Raphael Romero Ruiz.

What is a Supreme Court draft opinion?

As the name suggests, this is a Supreme Court opinion that has yet to be finalized. The leaked document is a majority opinion for the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. This case deals with the question of whether a Mississippi state law that prohibits abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional.

These are not the final votes.

What is a Supreme Court opinion?

Opinions are the way the judges of the Court communicate their judgments and explain the reasoning behind their vote. A judge is responsible for writing the opinion of the court, but any of the judges can write an opinion.

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As Valerie Hoekstra, associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, explains: “Opinion is meant to clarify [the decision] for state legislators and for lower courts in particular”.

Depending on how the case is voted on, multiple notices may be issued by the judges. Over the years, dissenting opinions have become widespread.

Hoekstra thinks this case will have strongly worded dissenting opinions. Due to the controversial nature of this case, the dissenting justices will want to record their position.

What is the procedure for a case before the Supreme Court?

The court first reads written briefs prepared by attorneys and hears oral arguments from each party involved in the case as they justify their position on the case. Then the nine justices meet and hold a preliminary vote to see if they agree with the lower court’s decision, according to the US Courts website.

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Paul Bender, a law professor at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, reviews what happens next: “The opinion is attributed to one of the majority members who is asked to write an opinion, stating the reasons why they are voting that way. If five people join in that opinion, then it becomes the opinion of the court.

How should reviews be written?

The author of the review is determined by how the votes were counted. A judge is responsible for drafting the opinion of the court usually by the Chief Justice. The nominee is often determined by whether there is a unanimous vote, a split vote or a simple majority.

If there is a minority of judges who voted that the case should have been decided differently, the most senior judge will appoint someone from that group to write a dissenting opinion.

What is the difference between an ogable and frontSupreme Court rating?

Generally, the Court’s vote is made public before the opinions.

The leaked draft opinion is an indicator of where at least five of the court’s nine judges’ votes are after oral arguments in December.

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Hoekstra notes, “The vote is really about what to do with this case that they accepted from the lower court. Are we going to uphold the decision of this tribunal? Are we going to cancel it? the judges to explain why, and in this case to explain why they overturn such a fundamental precedent as Roe v. Wade.

As the US Courts website says, “No opinion is considered the official opinion of the Court until it is delivered in open court (or at least made available to the public).”

When are Supreme Court decisions made public?

There aren’t really any rules as to when the decision is made public. Historically, cases at the Supreme Court level are decided before the summer recess at the end of June.

However, a delay in finalizing a court case is an indicator of its polarization.

Bender speculates that the reason these opinions have not been finalized is that the Court is split on the issue.

What happens next? Here is what the repeal of Roe v. Wade could mean for Arizona

“This notice was released in February and it has not been published. This means that four or more people have not yet joined, or even if they have, you have to wait for people to have the opportunity to write the sentence,” says Bender. .

What does overthrow mean?

Overturning a Supreme Court case means going against a legal precedent set by the decision on a previous case. The Supreme Court has existed since 1789, so it comes across cases that have similarities or deal with the same issues.

This has happened in the past, notably in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954, the Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This broke with the precedent set by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 when the Court ruled that racial segregation was constitutional.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned through Dobbs v. Jackson, as the leaked draft opinion suggests, this can have a major impact on how states regulate abortions.


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