How The Court Works | Drafting and Releasing Opinions

Professional writers themselves, Justices spend hours and days of painstaking work on draft opinions. When an author is satisfied with a document, it is circulated for the reaction of colleagues. When these comments come in, he or she often finds that the work has just begun. In a rare published comment, Justice Brennan told of how he once "circulated 10 printed drafts before one was approved as the Court opinion."At the same time, dissenters are circulating their own drafts. "It is a common experience that dissents change votes, even enough votes to become the majority," Justice Brennan said.

Special duties interrupt the routine. Each member of the Court is Circuit Justice of one or more of the 13 federal judicial circuits. A Circuit Justice may be called upon to issue or stay an injunction, to grant bail, or to stay a scheduled execution.

But finally, when all the revisions and corrections are complete, a master proof of the opinion is authorized for printing. On the day of release, final copies go to the Clerk for safekeeping and to the Reporter of Decisions, Christine L. Fallon. She writes headnotes, called "syllabus"—short analytical summaries of the opinions.

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