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... delivered the opinion of the court /in part/?

 
 
Thomas
 
Reply Sun 21 Feb, 2010 05:19 pm
This afternoon, I surfed around on the Supreme Court's web site, hoping that they might have handed down some juicy decision I might read and argue about. I didn't find any. Instead, I did find a strange phrase I can't figure out. In Hemi Group vs. City of New York (PDF here), it says that "CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court in part".

I understand that Supreme Court justices can write opinions concurring in part, concurring in judgment in part, or dissenting in part. But I don't get how they can deliver the opinion of the Court in part. What happened to the rest of the court's opinion? Although there are concurring and dissenting opinions in this case, there are none who "delivered the other part of the Court's opinion". There also is no explanation that "the dog ate the opinion of the Court in part". So how does this make sense?
 
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OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Sun 21 Feb, 2010 09:21 pm
@Thomas,
That just looks like sloppy work by the Court Reporter in the Syllabus, Thomas. Nothing in the head note is precedential anyway. It's generally a good idea to only use the head note to narrow down opinions that may interest you; but remember that nothing about it means much of anything before the Justice's actual opinion, so I usually just skim down to where the Judge writes and read that first. Head notes can NOT be relied upon to accurately summarize opinions.

That being said, I'd wager a silly error like this will be corrected before publishing.
joefromchicago
  Selected Answer
 
  3  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 09:07 am
@Thomas,
I only read the syllabus to which you linked. Here's what it said:

Quote:
ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court in part, in which
SCALIA, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined, and in which GINSBURG, J.,
joined in part. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and
concurring in the judgment. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in
which STEVENS and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., took no part
in the consideration or decision of the case.

That means that Roberts delivered an opinion, only part of which gained five votes (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito joined his opinion, Ginsburg only joined part of it, along with concurring in the judgment). Consequently, only part of Roberts's opinion (the part that Ginsburg joined) represented the opinion of the court. The rest of his opinion was just the opinion of four justices. So the syllabus says that Roberts "delivered the opinion of the court in part" because that's what he did.
Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 01:12 pm
Duh!

Thanks Joe, that makes sense. I should have counted the justices who joined Roberts's opinion.
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Thomas
 
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Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 01:16 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
Nah, it's in the full opinion too. (PDF here) And with good reason, as I now know.
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OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 05:33 pm
@joefromchicago,
Duh me too! (Embarrassed) Never occurred to me the guy writing the opinion might have opinions beyond the consensus. Does that come up often, Joe?
joefromchicago
 
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Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 07:17 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
It comes up more and more, as the court has fractured on various issues over the last twenty or so years. What's really confusing is when the court splits 4-1-4, and the swing justice in the middle (usually Anthony Kennedy) agrees with part of one group's opinion and part of the other's. Then it becomes a challenge to determine what the majority opinion really was. One important example of this was Regents v. Bakke, the famous "reverse discrimination" case. In that instance, it was Justice Powell who was the man in the middle.
OCCOM BILL
 
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Reply Mon 22 Feb, 2010 09:10 pm
@joefromchicago,
Thanks Joe. I've made a note to check out Regents v. Bakke next time I drift off topic doing research (happens often, and makes for long hours.)
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