January ALA Speaker Adam Liptak Reveals How SCOTUS Chief Justice Roberts Delegates Cases

November 11, 2015 9:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The Association’s upcoming January luncheon will feature Adam Liptak, the renowned New York Times journalist who covers the United States Supreme Court. Over the years, Liptak has provided unique insight on how the High Court operates behind the scenes, and his most recent article revealed how Chief Justice Roberts assigns opinions to the other Supreme Court justices. A new study, prepared by Harvard Law Professor Richard J. Lazarus, revealed that every justice gets very close to the same number of majority opinions. However, Liptak stated that Chief Justice Roberts “plays favorites” by giving major assignments and unappealing assignments to certain justices “with keen attention to strategy.” Namely, Chief Justice Roberts assigned about a third of the most important opinions to himself, and another third to Justice Kennedy. According to Professor Lazarus, the assignments to Justice Kennedy have a distinct purpose – "to lock in his vote in close cases."

Liptak noted that perhaps the most surprising finding in Professor Lazarus’ study was that Justice Scalia, who joined the court in 1986 and is its longest-serving current member, received the same percentage of assignments in big cases as Justice Alito, who did not join the court until 2006. Lazarus opined that the reason behind this was that Justice Alito was more apt to write opinions of the sort Chief Justice Roberts prefers – “incremental, without rhetorical flourishes, and able to command five votes.” Liptak noted that the special role of Justice Alito was evident when the justices announced the last two decisions of the term on June 30, 2014. The cases, concerning contraception and public unions, were decided by 5-to-4 votes with the Court’s conservatives in the majority. Chief Justice Roberts spoke first stating, “Justice Alito has the opinion of the court in our remaining two cases this morning.”

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