Dissecting Supreme Court Opinions to See How They are Reached
April 2, 2020
In a post on Scotusblog, Adam Feldman delves into the notoriously opaque process by which the most important decisions in the legal system are made. He starts from the premise that much is unknown about how the justices, with the help of their clerks, reach their decisions. One way to find out would be through interviews, if the justices and clerks were willing to be interviewed – but they aren’t. Feldman looks at overt citations to briefs as a way to discover their importance in a decision. He uses the 2018 term cases with signed opinions and more than five amicus briefs filed on the merits, then looks at citations to sources other than Supreme Court opinions since 1900. He also examines citations to journals, state statutes and other less frequently utilized resources. His methods, he claims, give additional insight into the way justices develop arguments in their opinions, and tell with great certainty which briefs played a role in decision-making. This in turn might highlight the importance of specific groups’ briefs for specific justices and in specific cases.
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