Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Per Curiam Opinions: What's the Point

Per Curiam Opinions: What's the Point is another interesting article by Howard Bashman that was published on December 10, 2007. As the title implies, Mr. Bashman questions the utility of per curiam or unassigned opinions.  As the article states:

As someone who looks at far too many appellate court rulings, I've often wondered what causes appellate judges to designate an opinion as "per curiam" -- a Latin phrase meaning "by the court" -- instead of identifying by name the particular judge who wrote the decision.

Perhaps with the notable exception of Bush v. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court's practice of using per curiam opinions is both straightforward and sensible. After a case has been orally argued, the Supreme Court ordinarily will decide the case by means of an opinion or opinions that identify their authors, except when a judgment is affirmed by an evenly divided court or the Court decides that certiorari had been improvidently granted.

On the other hand, if the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reverses or affirms without oral argument based solely on the certiorari stage briefing, the Court's disposition will ordinarily be by means of an unsigned per curiam opinion. Sometimes these per curiam decisions garner dissents, and thus it is possible to rule out some potential authors of the majority opinion. Nevertheless, the reader is left to guess who the author of the per curiam decision is based on what the opinion says and how it is written.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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