Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Sets Record with Sixth Majority Opinion
Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has made her mark this term, authoring her sixth majority opinion last week. With only 18 cases left to decide, Jackson’s latest opinion in Lora v. United States solidifies her position as the justice with the most authored opinions this term.
According to professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western University Law School, it is “totally normal” for Jackson to finish the term with six written opinions on the merits. The Supreme Court typically strives to distribute case assignments equally among the nine justices.
The court has historically taken on over 100 cases per term, but this number has decreased in recent years. This term, the justices agreed to hear 60 individual matters, removing one case from the argument calendar earlier this year.
Following the unanimous ruling in Lora, which established that defendants convicted in gun crimes can serve concurrent sentences, Adler tweeted that Jackson is “likely done” authoring opinions for the term. Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan have each written five opinions this term.
Insights into Jackson’s Jurisprudence
Of the six opinions Jackson has written this term, four were unanimous decisions. Adler notes that new justices often handle fewer contentious cases, leading to more unanimity among the full court. Therefore, these majority opinions may not reveal much about Jackson’s jurisprudence.
However, Jackson’s dissents provide some clues about her potential rulings in future terms when she is assigned more contentious cases. For example, she recently wrote a lengthy solo dissent when the court allowed a company to proceed with a complaint against a union for damaging cement products. In her dissent, Jackson emphasized that workers are not indentured servants.
Additionally, Jackson wrote a short dissent in November after the majority declined to consider the case of a death row inmate from Ohio. The inmate’s lawyers argued that the state suppressed evidence that could have affected the outcome of his trial.
Record-Breaking First Year
Nominated by President Joe Biden to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, Jackson has already made history as a first-term justice. She holds the record for the most words spoken during oral arguments since 1990. Jackson joined the court during a time of uncertainty, following the public’s disapproval of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
While the 6-3 Republican-appointed majority court has reserved its most divisive rulings for the final weeks, such as decisions on affirmative action and Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, the justices have not yet released any opinions along ideological lines this year.
According to Supreme Court scholar Adam Feldman, last term saw 14 decisions along ideological lines, while this term has had none so far. Additionally, over 54% of this term’s decisions have been unanimous, compared to 29% last term.
However, Adler cautions that the number of cases handled each term does not provide a representative cross-section of the court’s range of issues. Each term brings a different mix of cases and questions, resulting in different outcomes.
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