Majority, Concurring & Dissenting Opinions of the Supreme Court

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  • 0:01 Job of the Supreme Court
  • 1:11 Majority Opinions
  • 2:11 Concurring Opinions
  • 3:13 Dissenting Opinions
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

Judicial opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States resolve complex issues and create important legal precedent for other courts to follow. This lesson explores the three types of judicial opinions: majority, concurring, and dissenting.

Job of the Supreme Court

Have you ever found yourself in a heated discussion with a group of coworkers? Politics, religion-- any number of 'hot-button' issues are capable of stirring up intense emotions. Sometimes, a well-reasoned approach to the topic can convince others to better understand your perspective. Other times, however, your coworkers may be so entrenched in their own opinion they will never agree with you!

Now, imagine that your coworkers are eight of the most powerful, learned judges in the country and you are apart of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. It is comprised of nine judges, known as justices, who are appointed by the president to serve lifetime terms. The Supreme Court is an appellate court-- this means that it reviews the decisions of other courts and resolves any disputes arising from those decisions.

Generally speaking, the job of the Supreme Court is to review the cases and determine how the law should be interpreted and applied. After reviewing a case, the Supreme Court issues a judicial opinion, a judicial opinion is a form of legal writing that resolves legal disputes.

Majority Opinions

Sometimes, all nine justices agree on how a case should be resolved. Sometimes, they don't. In order to determine how a case should be decided, the justices 'vote' on the resolution. The majority opinion reflects the resolution agreed upon by more than half of the members of the court. The task of writing the majority opinion is assigned to one of the justices in that group.

The majority opinion announces the decision of the Court and explains its rationale. When the majority of the Court agrees with the decision of a lower court, the Court will 'affirm' the decision. If the majority disagrees with the decision of a lower court, the Court will 'reverse' that court's decision.

When it comes to judicial opinions, the reasons for the Court's decision are just as important as the decision itself. This is because the majority opinions issued by the Supreme Court establish precedents, which other courts must follow. The decision of the majority is binding on lower courts.

Concurring Opinions

As you can imagine, it's pretty tough to get all nine justices to agree on both the resolution of the case and the reasons that support that resolution. In these situations, one or more justices may author concurring opinions.

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