<< Should Marilyn Mosby Be Disbarred? | Main | Fear Mongering >>

Transparency in SCOTUS Opinion Edits

Appellate courts often edit their opinions after release, and usually the edits are not substantive.  The U.S. Supreme Court used to make the changes quietly, without any public notice that a change had been made.  That changed this term.  Adam Liptak has this story at the NYT on the change and its implications.

When you look up an opinion on the Internet, which version are you getting?

Writing for the majority in a case about domestic assault on Indian reservations, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had said a federal law applied to some serious crimes "when both perpetrator and victim are Indians." But what the law itself actually said, quite clearly, was that it applied to all victims, Indians or not.
*                       *                     *
The mistake in the domestic-assault case was fairly minor. Nothing in the ruling turned on it, and the error was unlikely to mislead lower courts even had it gone uncorrected, given that the statute it described was clear.

That is lucky, as the unrevised version was still all over the web as of Sunday, on respected sites like Scotusblog, Legal Information Institute, Findlaw and Justia.

I'm not sure about that "unlikely."  The U.S. Supreme Court's position in our legal system is such that even the most ill-considered and obvious obiter dicta can cause damage.

Here at C&C, when we discuss a recent Supreme Court opinion we will generally link to the version on Court's own site, where any changes will be reflected. 

The Court takes the slip opinions down when the bound volume is published.  Those volumes are also on the Court's site (since volume 502, October 1991), so if you need the definitive word on an opinion from that date to about six years ago, go there. 

Linking to an entire volume instead of an individual opinion is awkward for a blog, though, and most of our readers do not need that degree of certitude, so we generally link to Justia or one of the other archiving sites for opinions no longer on the Supreme Court site in individual form.

In between the slip opinion and the bound volume is the "preliminary print."  These paperback books are not on the web.  And why the heck does a preliminary print take nearly five years?  Isn't one year enough?  I asked a previous Reporter of Decisions that question a number of years ago, when the delay was shorter.  I got a bureaucratic answer saying they were working on it and expected to shorten the delay after they improved their systems in the next year or two.  The delay has steadily grown since.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives