Nice job on the Supreme Court by NPR’s Nina Totenberg. Here’s a sample of the questions she answers about the highest court in the land.
How does the Supreme Court determine what order and dates to release their decisions? — Dan Wentzel
As the chief justice says, “We release them when they are ready.” In other words, when the justices all agree that the majority opinion is finished, and the dissents and concurring opinions are finished. Assuming the opinion can be printed in time, the opinion is then released on the next day the court is sitting. At this time of year, the court typically adds days to its schedule.
Do the justices get together and discuss cases before each renders an opinion? How do they let each other know what their final opinions are? How is it decided who writes the majority opinion and who, if anyone, writes dissenting opinion(s)? — Wes Brown
After the briefs are filed, and the case is argued, the justices meet that week in conference. Nobody else is there. They discuss each argued case and vote. This is only a tentative vote, and from time to time a justice, or more than one, will change his or her mind. But that is relatively unusual. If the chief justice is in the majority, he assigns the opinion. If he is not, then the senior justice in the majority makes the assignment. So, if you look at the Arizona voting case this week, the chief justice was in the minority; the senior justice would have been Antonin Scalia, and in this case, he assigned the opinion to himself.
The dissenters usually agree among themselves who will write for them.
Once an opinion is assigned, the justice who gets the assignment spends considerable time, usually about four weeks, writing an opinion in chambers. It may go through many drafts there before being circulated to the other justices. And then the fun begins. The work is almost all in writing, with each justice writing to the author what his problems may be with the circulated draft. And each time the author writes a new draft, it is circulated to everyone. Eventually, in most cases anyway, four or more other justices agree to join the circulated draft, adding up to a court majority of five or more.
In the process, there often is quite a battle in the text between the majority author and the dissenters, with each answering each other’s arguments.
Read more here.
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