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Even though dissenting opinions are not the law, they can be important in many ways:

  1. Dissenting opinions can help us understand the meaning and implications of the majority opinion. Because the dissenting opinion often tells us what the majority does NOT stand for, dissenting opinions can help map out the boundaries of the majority opinion, which can be useful in later cases. Often, it is not always clear what the Court is holding and what the implications of the outcome are when the Court's opinion is first issued. Dissents often draw out the issues of the case and pick apart the majority's rationale so that we can better understand what was really at stake, and how we should broaden and narrow the majority's holding for future cases to avoid potentially adverse results.
  2. Dissenting opinions help us predict how justices will come out in future cases. The different justices on the Court have different theories of jurisprudence, and these jurisprudential theories (textualism, etc.) can often affect how a judge decides a case. Because dissenting opinions are often written by only one or two judges, this is where a justice can really showcase his or her theories on the law, which can help us understand how that justice thinks, and how the Court is thinking in general. Again, this can be helpful for both lawyers and lower court judges alike when formulating arguments and opinions in future cases.
  3. Dissenting opinions can show us the limits of the majority's holding. This is similar to number one, but I cannot emphasize enough that judicial decisions can be ambiguous and interpreted to have either broad or narrow implications. The arguments in the dissent can show us WHY the majority's opinion SHOULD have narrow implications, even though it is currently the law.
  4. Dissenting opinions show us where the "fight" was.Again, this is similar to number one, but if we know where the "fight" was, we might also be able to predict how the case can best be overturned or narrowed to the point of insignificance. We might also be able to learn why the case was significant if it is not apparent in the majority opinion.
  5. Dissenting opinions can help us react. By showing the implications of the majority's opinion, dissenting opinions can help the public and the legislature react to the majority's ruling.
  • An excellent example of this is Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005). Here, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pure economic benefit qualified as a "public use" under the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This means that, as a Constitutional floor, the government can take land from a private property owner by eminent domain if it is part of a purely economic redevelopment plan. Justice O'Connor wrote a scathing dissent, arguing that the result of this decision would be that the rich would benefit at the expense of the poor -- any Motel 8 could be replaced by the Ritz in the name of "economic redevelopment." As a reaction, more than 40 states enacted legislation limiting the scope of eminent domain to avoid the adverse results of the Kelo decision. O'Connor's dissenting opinion may have aided the state governments in justifying this response.
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14y ago
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12y ago

A justice may also give a dissenting opinion which gives an opposing view of the case and presents the reasons for the opposition.

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Q: What is the importance of a oposing opinion?
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