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SCOTUS to Start Highlighting Changes in its Opinions

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 08, 2015 1:59 PM

The US Supreme Court announced Monday that it will start highlighting changes to publicly released opinions. The changes will be highlighted in the text of the opinion and both the old and new material will be visible to readers by placing their cursor over the brightened sections.

This may not come as particularly earth-shattering news, but it is construed by some as a small concession by the Highest Court in response to complaints regarding the court's lack of transparency. Certain groups have actively pushed for the use of cameras in the Court, a notion that Justice Antonin Scalia has dismissed.

Scalia's Blunder

Ironically, Justice Scalia can claim some credit for bringing attention to the issue of opinion changes. In a recent EPA case, Justice Scalia took the unusual step of reading his dissent aloud. Scalia's in court dissent contained errors of fact referencing another case of which he was the principal author.

It was an embarrassing episode for the Supreme Court Justice, particularly given that his impassioned dissents lend the content of his words added authority. When legal scholars noted the error, the Court quietly corrected the piece but failed to give any notice to the public of the changes.

Conveniently, as a safety catch, each Supreme Court opinion contains a notice to the reader that it is subject to revision before being published in the venerable United States Reports. Thus, what the court did was technically above-board. However, it is easy to see why some Supreme Court skeptics might be inclined to see this as sleight of hand

Read Those Opinions

SCOTUS's new highlighting practice is actually in keeping with the spirit of Scalia's stated concern that the public could be misinformed with the inner workings of the Court. With the highlighting of errors, the public is incentivized to scrutinize Court opinions with an eye for the errors. Thanks in part to Justice Scalia, it should now be easier for the general public to access the usually opaque aspects of the Court.

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