This post — which is an updated version of posts that we have published in earlier Terms — addresses some of the questions about orders and opinion announcements that we have commonly received during our live blogs. If you have a question that you don’t see answered here, please feel free to ask it during tomorrow’s live blog.
Question: What do you mean by “orders”?
Answer: When we talk about “orders” or the “order list,” we are usually referring to the actions that the Court took at its most recent Conference, which are reflected in a document (“the order list”) that the Court releases to the public. The most common orders are those granting or denying review on the merits in a particular case (known as granting or denying “cert.,” short for “certiorari”), but the Court may also issue other orders in cases seeking review or in pending cases — for example, an order granting or rejecting a request to participate in an oral argument on the merits. We do not expect orders tomorrow, only opinions.
Question: What is a “CVSG”?
Answer: “CVSG” stands for “call for the views of the Solicitor General.” In most cases in which someone is seeking review of the lower courts’ decision, the Court will issue a straightforward grant or denial. But sometimes the Court will want the government’s views on what it should do in a case in which the government isn’t a party but may still have an interest — for example, because the interpretation of a federal statute is involved. So the Court will issue an order in which it “invites the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States.” It isn’t an “invitation” in the sense that the federal government gets to decide whether it wants to file a brief at all, because the Court expects the government to file. There is no deadline by which the government is required to file the brief, however. And the government’s recommendation, although not dispositive, will carry significant weight with the Court.
Question: What does it mean to relist a case?
Answer: When a case is relisted, that means that it is slated for reconsideration at the Justices’ next Conference. This will be reflected on the case’s electronic docket once the docket has been updated: you will see the words “DISTRIBUTED for Conference of [fill in date],” and then the next entry in the docket will usually say “DISTRIBUTED for Conference of [next conference after the previous entry, whenever that is].” Relisting can mean a couple of different things, and we don’t always know what those things are. It can mean, for example, that a Justice is trying to pick up a fourth vote to grant review, that one or more Justices just wants to look more closely at the case, or that the Court is writing an opinion to summarily (that is, without briefing or oral argument on merits) reverse the decision below. In 2014, the Court appears to have adopted a practice of granting review only after it has relisted a case at least once; although we don’t know for sure, presumably the Court uses the extra time resulting from a relist to make sure that the case is a suitable one for its review.
Question: What opinions will the Court issue tomorrow?
Answer: Unlike some other courts, the Court doesn’t announce in advance which cases will be decided on a particular day. The only time we have a good sense is the very last day, when the Court issues its final rulings.
Question: How many opinions will the Court issue?
Answer: The Court also does not announce in advance how many opinions it expects to release on any particular day.
Question: What’s the last day the Court will issue opinions?
Answer: We don’t yet know when the last day will be, although we do know that it is likely to be in the end of June. After tomorrow, the Court is currently scheduled to sit for a “non-argument” session (at which they are likely to release opinions) on Monday, June 27. But the Court has traditionally added extra opinion days to its schedule in June. Although we can’t say for sure, we may know more about additional opinion days as early as tomorrow.
Question: If a case is not decided by the end of the Term, will it be re-argued?
Answer: Ordinarily, yes, the Court will order re-argument during the next Term. But it’s relatively rare for the Court to order re-argument, particularly if it hasn’t asked the lawyers in the case to address a new question. Having said that, though, this is an unusual Term because the Court is now operating with only eight Justices; there has been speculation (although certainly no confirmation) that the Justices might decide to hold some cases over until next Term if they are deadlocked four to four.
Question: How likely is it that we will get one of the high-profile cases tomorrow?
Answer: The Court releases opinions as they are ready. (This includes the majority opinion and any concurring and dissenting opinions as well.) Conventional wisdom would hold that the cases which were argued earlier in the Term are more likely to be decided before the cases that were argued later in the Term.
Question: Who announces “per curiam” opinions (that is, opinions without a named author)?
Answer: Per curiam opinions in cases that were not briefed and argued on the merits are typically issued with the order list and not otherwise announced. The Court will also issue a one-sentence per curiam opinion in the event of a four-to-four tie in a case that was briefed and argued on the merits.
Question: How does the Court decide the order in which opinions will be announced on a given day?
Answer: The Justices announce their opinions in order of reverse seniority, with the Chief Justice going last. So if Justice Kagan has an opinion to announce, she goes first, followed by Justice Sotomayor, Justice Alito, and so on through the Chief Justice, who is always the most senior Justice. The Justice who is announcing a decision will read a summary of the opinion out loud in the courtroom; the audio of this announcement will also be available later on at the Oyez Project’s website. A Justice who dissents also has the option to read a summary of the dissent from the bench as well, but this is usually done only when the dissenting Justice feels especially strongly about the case; the decision to read a dissent from the bench is generally regarded as a “statement” by the dissenting Justice.
Question: How do you get the results in the cases? Do you have someone in the courtroom?
Answer: No electronic devices are allowed in the courtroom, and therefore no blogging can be done from the courtroom. Our reporter, Lyle Denniston, is in the press room. At the same time that the Court begins to announce an opinion in the courtroom, the Court’s Public Information Office (PIO) hands out paper copies of the opinion to the reporters in the press room. Lyle quickly reviews the opinion and then relays the outcome to the blog staff, who type the result into the live blog. Because it can often take a few minutes for the author of an opinion to get to the bottom line while reading a summary of the decision in the courtroom, this means that we usually have the result in the case before the spectators in the courtroom.
The opinions are usually available online, at the Court’s website, shortly after they are released at the Court.
Question: Who decides which Justice will write which opinion?
Answer: Shortly after the oral argument, the Justices vote on a case. The most senior Justice in the majority gets to assign the author of the opinion. He (or she) can assign it to himself (or herself), or to a colleague whom he thinks will be able to hold the majority.
Question: After voting, while the opinions are being drafted, do the Justices ever change their votes?
Answer: The Justices do sometimes change their votes. But unless the news leaks from the Court, the public generally does not know for sure that this has happened until much later – for example, when a Justice leaves the Court and releases his or her papers.
Question: Does the Court notify the lawyers in advance when it is going to issue an opinion in their case?
Answer: The Court does not notify any of the lawyers in a case before it issues an opinion in their case. So unless it is the last day before the summer recess, the lawyers (like the rest of us) don’t know whether they will get a decision in their cases. But even without knowing when they will get a decision, some lawyers like to attend the opinion announcements in the hope that the Court will issue a decision that day.
Question: Can the public attend the sessions in which the Court announces its decisions, or do you need a press pass?
Answer: The Court usually makes at least fifty seats in the courtroom available to the public when the Court is in session to hear arguments or announce opinions. But lines can be long, especially as we get closer to the end of June and the chances of getting an opinion in one of the high-profile cases increase. To sit in the public seats in the courtroom, you don’t need to wear a suit, but you will want to dress neatly. And get there early!
Question: Do I have any other options to follow the action in the courtroom? Is there video or audio coverage of the opinion announcement?
Answer: There are no cameras capturing the proceedings in the courtroom, so video is not available – live or otherwise. Nor is there live audio coverage of the opinion announcements: the proceedings are recorded, but the audio is not available until much later.
Question: What is all the talk about boxes?
Answer: The Public Information Office brings out copies of the opinions in sealed boxes to distribute to the press. The number of boxes is often a rough proxy for how many opinions we are likely to get. It is, as someone said on the live blog recently, information that is really only relevant for about ten minutes, because pretty soon we find out how many opinions there actually are.