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Circumstance and Strategy: Jointly Authored Supreme Court Opinions
Nevada Law Review (2012)
  • Laura K. Ray
The standard form of authorship for a Supreme Court opinion is a single author who then may be joined by any colleagues who are in agreement. There is, however, a significant and overlooked variant of this form, one used in a small cluster of major cases, most of them landmark decisions, over the past seventy years: the jointly authored opinion. In these cases, there may be as many as nine authors signing an opinion (as in Cooper v. Aaron) or as few as two (as in McConnell v. FEC). All the signatories may be credited with the entire opinion (as in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) or separate Justices may make clear their authorship of separate parts of the opinion (as in Planned Parenthood v. Casey). And while in many instances a unified final product conceals the elaborate negotiations and compromises that preceded it, in others the opinion may deliberately reveal remaining differences among the authors. This article, the first to examine the jointly authored opinion as a form of judicial expression, explores the various circumstances leading to its use in seven Supreme Court cases and the strategies employed in its execution. It finds that the jointly authored opinion sends subtle messages that illuminate the inevitable tension on a collegial Court between the claims of individual judicial identity and the need for consensus to achieve a workable resolution.
  • Supreme Court,
  • judges,
  • justices. authorship,
  • opinions,
  • legal writing,
  • jointly authored opinions
Publication Date
Summer 2012
Citation Information
Laura K. Ray. "Circumstance and Strategy: Jointly Authored Supreme Court Opinions" Nevada Law Review Vol. 12 (2012)
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