Monday, May 26, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Edits Decisions Without Notice

            According to a recent article in the New York Times by Adam Liptak ("Final Word on U.S. Law Isn't: Supreme Court Keeps Editing," 5/24/14), the United State Supreme Court has been regularly editing its decisions - without making public notice of the revisions.  According to Richard J. Lazarus in the article, law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study regarding the practice, the edits include "truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning."

            This practice is seemingly troublesome - particularly for attorneys across the country - as the decisions are relied upon for guidance, and the finality of them is now discovered to be uncertain with respect to significant legal holdings.  This was particularly noted by Jeffrey L. Fisher in the article, a law professor at Stanford, who stated, "[i]n Supreme Court opinions, every word matters...[w]hen they’re changing the wording of opinions, they’re basically rewriting the law."

            One reason the article notes for the revisions is due to the time constraints the Justices have when writing and publishing their decisions (which sometimes lead to inaccuracies and misstatements of law).  Also, according to Mr. Liptak, the final versions of decisions do not always fully replace the original ones, and the only way the public can identify most changes is by a rigorous comparison of early versions of decisions to ones published years later.

Salvatore R. Marino, Esq. 

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