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Modifying Opinions

Nobody is perfect, and even the nation's highest courts sometimes make mistakes in their opinions.  When the California Supreme Court makes a mistake and needs to modify an opinion, it issues a modification order like this.

Not so at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Opinions come out in four forms.  There is the bench opinion used to announce the decision live in court.  That one has a shorter life span than a fruit fly.  Almost immediately we get the slip opinion.  That one is posted on the Court's website, and it is the one we link to on this blog for same-day commentary. 

After the slip opinion, unofficial versions are printed by the West Publishing Company (S.Ct.) and Lexis Law Publishing (L.Ed.2d), but the Court is not involved in these.

The slip opinion remains the official opinion until publication of the preliminary print, currently running about four years after the opinion date.  Why so long?  Beats me.  After another year or so we get the bound volume, which will be the final, official word on the shelf of the law library forevermore.  The BVs are also available in PDF form on Court's website, with the caveat that the dead-tree version and not the digital one is official, if there is any difference.

Sometimes there are changes between these versions, but there is generally not a public announcement.  Adam Liptak reports at the NYT:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday made a rare confession: One of its opinions contained an error and has been corrected.

Changes in the court's opinions after they are issued are common, and some happen years after they are announced. But, with few exceptions, the court has not acknowledged its after-the-fact editing.

The court's announcement Wednesday concerned a dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued early Saturday morning that objected to an order from the court allowing Texas to use its strict voter ID law in next month's election.

Justice Ginsburg mistakenly included photo ID cards issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs among the forms of identification that would no longer be accepted. The error was noted Tuesday by Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Liptak does not specify the form of the announcement.  I couldn't find it on the Court's website.  This change is also a bit different from the edits between versions in that the Court has changed the slip opinion on its website.  No mention of veteran cards in the version presently posted there.

For what it's worth, I think Cal. Supreme does it right, and SCOTUS should follow suit.

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