What types of written opinions may the US Supreme Court issue?

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Written Opinions

The four most common opinions:
  • Majority
  • Concurring
  • Dissenting
  • Per Curiam

The Court's Opinion (usually also the majority opinion) is synonymous with the Court's decision. The "Opinion of the Court" gives the verdict and explains the reasoning behind the decision reached. The privilege of writing the official opinion falls to the most senior justice in the majority group, or to the Chief Justice if he voted with the majority; this person may choose to write the opinion, or may assign the task to another member of the majority. If the justices who voted against the majority wish to issue a unified opinion, they simply decide amongst themselves who will write it.

Individual justices may write their own opinions, usually concurring or dissenting, regardless of whether they agree with the majority. Justices may also "join" or sign any other written opinion they agree with, even if they agree with more than one point-of-view. This generally strengthens the opinion.

All published opinions except Per Curiam decisions may be used as precedent in future litigation.
  • Opinion of the Court - The official opinion, whether unanimous or by majority vote

  • Majority opinion - Also called the "Opinion of the Court," this is the official verdict in the case that represents the vote of the majority of justices

  • Plurality opinion - A concurring opinion joined by more justices than the official Court opinion

  • Dissenting opinion - An opinion written by a justice who disagrees with the majority

  • Dissenting in part - An opinion written by a justice who voted with the majority on the decision, but disagrees with a portion of the reasoning in the majority opinion, which he or she explains in writing

  • Unanimous opinion - An opinion authored by one justice, often (but not always) the Chief Justice, and signed by all justices

  • Concurring opinion - An opinion that agrees with the decision but may disagree with the some of the reasoning behind the Court opinion, or may elaborate on a point made or introduce further relevant information

  • Concurring in part - Typically an opinion written by a justice who voted against the majority, but agrees with a portion of the majority opinion, which he or she explains in writing

  • Concurring in judgment - An opinion written by a justice who agrees with the decision, but not with the reasoning used to reach the decision

  • Concurring in part and dissenting in part - An opinion written by a justice who may have voted either way, but wants to explain which points are in agreement and which are in disagreement.

  • Per Curiam opinion: The opinion is given by the full court, unsigned by the Justices

  • Seriatim opinion: Each justice on the Court writes his or her own, separate opinion; there is no majority opinion, only a majority verdict. This type of opinion was more common in the 18th, and parts of the 19th, centuries


The most important type is the majority opinion. The majority opinion is, as the name suggests, the opinion of the majority of judges hearing the case. In most cases, a majority opinion requires five Justices, unless one or more Justices have recused themselves from a given decision. The majority opinion is important because it defines the precedent that all future courts hearing a similar case should follow.

Majority opinions are sometimes accompanied by concurring opinions. Concurring opinions are written by individual Justices in the majority. These opinions agree with the majority opinion, but may stress a different point of law. Sometimes, concurring opinions will agree with the result reached by the majority, but for a different reason altogether.

Opinions written by justices not in the majority are known as dissenting opinions. Dissenting opinions are important because they provide insight into how the Court reached its decision.

Sometimes the court issues so many separate opinions that whichever opinion is joined by the most justices is referred to as a plurality, rather than a majority. One recent example of a decision holding a plurality opinion is that of Baez et al., v. Rees (2008), where Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy and Alito signed one opinion, and Justice Stevens wrote a separate concurring opinion, as did Justices Scalia, Breyer, and Thomas (Scalia also joined Thomas' concurrence). Justice Ginsberg wrote a dissenting opinion in which Justice Souter joined.

There are also a number of cases where members of the majority each wrote a concurring opinion, without creating a unified majority or plurality opinion, as well as cases where the court decision was released without the signature of any justice, in an anonymous fashion. This latter form is known as a per curiam decision. Bush v. Gore (2000) is a recent example. Cases decided per curiam do not create a precedent that can be cited in future litigation.

Plurality and per curiam decisions tend to create confusion as to how a federal or constitutional law is to be interpreted.
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How are US Supreme Court written opinions assigned?

The "opinion of the Court" is synonymous with the Court's decision. The Opinion gives the verdict and explains the reasoning behind the decision reached. The privilege of writ

What are three kinds of opinions that may be written by the supreme court after a case is decided?

The most important type is the majority opinion. The majority opinion is, as the name suggests, the opinion of the majority of judges hearing the case. In most cases, a majo

What is a written opinion of a US Supreme Court Justice who disagrees with the majority opinion?

A Justice may write a dissenting opinion if he or she votes against the majority and wants to record his or her legal reasoning for consideration in future cases. Dissenti

What is an opinion written by a US Supreme Court justice who agrees with the minority opinion?

The term "minority opinion" is a bit unorthodox, considering those who vote against the majority may not be unified in their reasoning. When a Supreme Court justice wants to e

When does the US Supreme Court issue opinions?

The US Supreme Court releases opinions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and on the third Monday of each sitting. The public is usually alerted a few days prior to an opinion

What types of opinion are always rendered with a decision from the US Supreme Court?

Regardless of the US Supreme Court's decision, there is no guarantee any type of opinion will be written. Per curiam (unsigned) decisions -- which are reasonably common --

How many written opinions are used in the US Supreme Court?

There is no fixed answer to this question. The US Supreme Court sometimes issues decisions without written opinions, sometimes with a single majority opinion, sometimes with a

What is a written opinion in a US Supreme Court case?

Written opinions represent the constitutional theories, logic and case law supporting a decision or a response to that decision . The Supreme Court may issue more than on

When the US Supreme Court rules how many opinions can it issue about this one ruling?

There is no mandated limit; however, the practical limit would be nine -- one for each member of the Court. Only one opinion may be submitted as the official opinion of the

What happens if a dissenting opinion is issued by a justice of the Supreme Court?

Nothing really "happens". It's published along with the majority opinion but doesn't change the majority decision in any way. Unless the Court votes unanimously, there will