FAQs: Opinion announcement days (UPDATED: June 20)
We expect the Court to issue opinions tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. We will be live blogging beginning at around 9 a.m. (All times are Eastern.) We have put together a list of some of the commonly asked questions about opinion announcements that we have gotten during recent live blogs, along with our responses, but please let us know during the live blog if you have a question that you don’t see answered here.
Question: What opinions will the Court issue?
Answer: Unlike some other courts, the Court doesn’t announce in advance which cases will be decided on a particular day. The only time we have a good sense is the very last day, when the Court issues its final rulings.
Question: How many opinions will the Court issue?
Answer: The Court also does not announce in advance how many opinions it expects to release on any particular day.
Question: What’s the last day the Court will issue opinions?
Answer: We don’t yet know when the last day will be. Based on past practice, the most likely days are June 26 and 27. Although we can’t say for sure, we may know more about next week’s schedule as early as today.
Question: What cases are still undecided?
Answer: There are still fourteen cases awaiting decision; you can find a full list of the cases in this post by Kedar Bhatia.
Question: If a case is not decided by the end of the Term, will it be re-argued?
Answer: Ordinarily, yes, the Court will order re-argument during the next Term. But it’s relatively rare for the Court to order re-argument, particularly if it hasn’t asked the lawyers in the case to address a new question.
Question: How likely is it that the affirmative action, voting rights, and same-sex marriage cases will all be decided the same day?
Answer: The Court releases opinions as they are ready. (This includes the majority opinion and any concurring and dissenting opinions as well.) It is unlikely that all four of these opinions will be ready at once. Conventional wisdom would hold that the cases which were argued earlier in the Term are more likely to be decided before the cases that were argued later in the Term. A list of the cases organized by sitting is here. (Fisher v. University of Texas is currently the oldest undecided case.)
Question: Who announces “per curiam” opinions (that is, opinions without a named author)?
Answer: Per curiam opinions in cases that were not briefed and argued on the merits are typically issued with the order list and not otherwise announced.
Question: How does the Court decide the order in which opinions will be announced on a given day?
Answer: The Justices announce their opinions in order of reverse seniority, with the Chief Justice going last. So if Justice Kagan has an opinion to announce, she goes first, followed by Justice Sotomayor, Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, etc. The Justice who is announcing a decision will read a summary of the opinion out loud in the courtroom. Some of the Justices do make these “bench statements” available to the public through the Court’s Public Information Office (PIO); you can also listen to them later on at the Oyez Project’s website. A Justice who dissents also has the option to read a summary of the dissent from the bench as well, but this is usually done only when the dissenting Justice feels especially strongly about the case; the decision to read a dissent from the bench is generally regarded as a “statement” by the dissenting Justice.
Question: How do you get the results in the cases? Do you have someone in the courtroom?
Answer: No electronic devices are allowed in the courtroom, and therefore no blogging can be done from the courtroom. Our reporter, Lyle Denniston, is in the press room. At the same time that the Court begins to announce an opinion in the courtroom, the Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) hands out paper copies of the opinion to the reporters in the press room. Lyle quickly reviews the opinion and then relays the outcome to the blog staff, who type the result into the live blog. Because it can often take a few minutes for the author of an opinion to get to the bottom line while reading a summary of the decision in the courtroom, this means that we usually have the result in the case before the spectators in the courtroom.
The opinions are usually available online, at the Court’s website, a few minutes after they are released at the Court.
Question: Who decides which Justice will write which opinion?
Answer: Shortly after the oral argument, the Justices vote on a case. The most senior Justice in the majority gets to assign who will write the opinion. He (or she) can assign it to himself (or herself), or to a colleague whom he thinks will be able to hold the majority.
Question: After voting, while the opinions are being drafted, do the Justices ever change their votes?
Answer: The Justices do sometimes change their votes. But unless the news leaks from the Court, the public generally does not know for sure that this has happened until much later – for example, when a Justice leaves the Court and releases his papers.
Question: Because Justice Kagan has recused herself from Fisher v. University of Texas, what would happen if the Justices deadlocked in a four-to-four tie?
Answer: If that were to happen, the lower court’s decision would be affirmed, but it would only be binding law in the states that are part of the Fifth Circuit – the lower court that decided the case. It would not apply outside that group of states.
Question: Does the Court notify the lawyers in advance when it is going to issue an opinion in their case?
Answer: The Court does not notify any of the lawyers in a case (even superstar lawyers like David Boies and Ted Olson, who represent the plaintiffs in the challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage) before it issues an opinion in their case. So unless it is the last day before the summer recess, the lawyers (like the rest of us) don’t know whether they will get a decision in their cases. But even without knowing when they will get a decision, some lawyers like to attend the opinion announcements in the hope that the Court will issue a decision that day.
Question: Can the public attend the sessions in which the Court announces its decisions, or do you need a press pass?
Answer: The Court usually makes at least fifty seats in the courtroom available to the public when the Court is in session to hear arguments or announce opinions. But lines can be long, especially as we get closer to the end of June and the chances of getting an opinion in one of the high-profile cases increase. To sit in the public seats in the courtroom, you don’t need to wear a suit, but you will want to dress neatly. And get there early!
Question: Do I have any other options to follow the action in the courtroom? Is there video or audio coverage of the opinion announcement?
Answer: There are no cameras capturing the proceedings in the courtroom, so video is not available – live or otherwise. Nor is there live audio coverage of the opinion announcements: the proceedings are recorded, but the audio is not available until much later.
Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, FAQs: Opinion announcement days (UPDATED: June 20), SCOTUSblog (Jun. 19, 2013, 4:19 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/faqs-opinion-announcement-days-updated-june-20/