The Court System

Judiciary Act of 1789

What is the work product of judges and courts?

Judges, particularly federal judges, express their work product through judicial opinions. When people colloquially refer to a case, they are often referring to the judicial opinion authored by the judge or the court. These judicial opinions are written resolutions of legal issues. Oftentimes these judicial opinions divide Court members. For example, on many important constitutional law issues, the U.S. Supreme Court will divide 5 to 4 on the questions. The types of opinions are:

  • Majority opinion: This opinion, which must have five votes, is the ruling of the Court. It stands as precedent for future cases. If all justices vote with the majority, the opinion is said to be a unanimous opinion.

  • Plurality opinion: The main opinion of the Court but one that fails to command a majority of the justices. For instance, a case may have four justices agreeing with one opinion, two justices who file concurring opinions but not joining the other four, and three justices in dissent. In this 4-2-3 split, there is no majority opinion.

  • Concurring opinion: An opinion that agrees with the result but not the reasoning of the majority or main opinion of the Court. A justice who writes a concurring opinion may want to emphasize particular points of law or simply indicate that the main opinion reached the right result by taking the wrong path.

  • Dissenting opinion: An opinion that disagrees with the result of the majority opinion.

  • Per curiam opinion: An opinion rendered by the Court, or a majority of the Court, collectively instead of a single justice.


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