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Posted by on Nov 10, 2010 in Law, Society | 0 comments

Supreme Court Hard(ly) At Work

Looking for an update on the U. S. Supreme Court? Here it is.

Since returning to session on the first Monday in October, the Court has decided…wait for it…one case, Wilson v. Corcoran. That case was decided two days ago. The Court devoted seven pages of a per curiam opinion to let the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals know that the Supreme Court meant what it said 20 years ago when it determined that federal habeas corpus actions could only be decided on federal law or federal constitutional grounds. Since the District and Circuit Courts appeared to rely on state law in granting habeas, the case was remanded for further consideration.

More later – when next they decide something.

Yes, you’re right. I do have a bit more to say in the way of commentary. To understand what comes next, you need to understand the difference between a case holding and dicta. The holding of a case is its actual legal ruling. For example: “Based upon the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, the case is reversed and remanded to the District Court.” That tells you what happens to the case and why. Dicta, conversely, is made up of the philosophical musings of the Justice or the Court, often ending with them telling you what they are not deciding or indicating what they might decide, or be interested in deciding, if a particular issue were to reach them at some point.

While the U. S. Supreme Court constantly carps about its caseload, the processes and endlessly long written opinions are the curse they place upon themselves. The perceived need to explain through dicta the tiniest minutia, relevant to the decision or not, overwhelms the need for timely, decisive justice that can be readily understood by the citizens.

Yeah, lawyers blather on endlessly. Been there and done that. And the Court is made up of lawyers, so the picking of, often irrelevant, nits for dozens or scores of pages is not entirely surprising. But it is counterproductive. All those nits being picked are rounded up by other lawyers in future cases and herded into endlessly long briefs leading to other, even lengthier, decisions as the old nits of past dicta are re-picked and new nits are discovered.

Just a thought: maybe a little less nit picking, a little less over-writing, a little less dicta and a little more direct, brief and comprehensible decision making would make the job of the Court, and the citizens trying to understand it, a bit less burdensome.