Article Title

Opinion Announcements


Tony Mauro


When the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision on the fate of the Affordable Care Act on June 28, 2012, several news organizations rushed to report, incorrectly, that the court had overturned the law. Those making the error did not wait for Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to complete his twenty-minute announcement of the opinion from the bench. But anyone who had listened to the opinion announcement from start to finish would almost certainly have gotten it right.

This article examines the rarely discussed tradition of Supreme Court opinion announcements and their role in the interplay between the court, the public and the news media. Justices of the Supreme Court have announced their opinions from the bench since their first decision in 1792. Members of the court have viewed the practice as an important part of their accountability to the public, even if the audience in the courtroom is small and random.

Possible changes in the court’s practice of opinion announcements could enhance public understanding of the court. One would be to release the audio of the opinion announcements on a real-time or slightly delayed basis. Currently, opinion announcements become available only well after the end of the court term in which they were made. Another change to consider would be to release written opinions only at the end of the oral opinion announcement, which would encourage the news media to wait and listen before rushing to report on a just-released decision.