Announcing Supreme Court Opinions
I’ve been listening to audio on oyez.org of the public announcements in famous recent Supreme Court opinions. (I was in the Court for the announcement of City of Boerne v. Flores, by sheer happenstance.) While these statements are interesting historical artifacts and do convey the personalities of the Justices to some extent, I’m left to wonder why the Court still goes through this old-fashioned exercise. Today every merits opinion is posted on the Court’s website for immediate download. This is how opinions are released by federal circuit courts and by most state supreme courts. They do not convene an open session to announce decisions. (Maybe some state supreme court also does an oral announcement–I’d be curious if anyone knows.)
I can think of two reasons that might support continuing the announcement tradition. One is that the Justices are helping the journalists who cover the Court by summarizing opinions being issued. How much they are helped by what gets said is another question. Second, the oral tradition allows dissenting Justices to emphasize their disagreement by making a statement to that effect from the bench. Does this add anything to the written dissent? I would say no.
Of course, announcing opinions orally usually does no harm, though I can think of some instances in which a Justice said something impolitic while announcing a dissent (Justice McReynolds did this once in comparing the federal government’s partial repudiation of the gold standard with Nero’s debasement of the currency, which then led people to think he was calling FDR a Nero.)