April 23, 2014
A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, Schuette v. BAMN is interesting for all sorts of reasons. One point of interest if you are studying US law is to note the concurring opinions. A concurring opinion is where a judge agrees with a result but may have different or additional reasons for reaching that result.
In the United States appellate level federal courts hears cases as a panel. In the Circuit Courts of Appeal, the intermediate level federal courts, a panel of three judges usually decides the case. Sometimes more judges hear the case if it is very important. The Supreme Court, which is the highest federal court, has nine justices. In the Schuette case, only eight justices heard the case because one judge was recused.
The issue in the case was whether an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Michigan, as voted on by the people of Michigan, violated the Constitution of the United States. The Circuit Court held that the amendment was unconstitutional because it violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Of the eight justices that ruled in the Schuette case, six justices disagreed with the Circuit Court of Appeal and voted to reverse. But if you look at the case you can see that the case resulted in five different opinions.
First, three justices wrote the opinion of the plurality, determining that the Circuit Court misunderstood case law and incorrectly invalidated the amendment to the state constitution.
Second, the Chief Justice wrote a short concurring opinion, in which he mainly responded to criticisms by justices who disagreed with the plurality's decision.
Third, two justices joined in a concurring opinion in which they agreed with the result reached by the plurality, but vigorously disagreed with the line of cases on which the plurality relied.
Fourth, one judge wrote a concurring opinion in which he agreed that the amendment was constitutional, but emphasized the democratic voting process by which the amendment was added to the state constitution.
Finally, two justices joined in a dissenting opinion, which was longer in length than the plurality and concurring opinions combined, vigorously disputing the plurality and concurring opinions.