Notes, 1:00 p.m., Spring 2001, March 12, 2001




Because there are 9 Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and 7 Justices on the California Supreme Court any decision will be made by a majority, such as 5-4 or 7-2, etc. There are also unanimous decisions that are made.  Each explanation or decision is accompanied by an opinion (or explanation) why a decision was rendered, which is made public to the American people. 


Majority opinion explains how and why the majority voted.


Example:  In the 1954 civil case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws which supported ‘separate but equal’ institutions were unconstitutional.  In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren (R), the Court decided that discrimination on the basis of race was unconstitutional.  This decision was in sharp contrast of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that allowed segregation.


Concurring opinion explains a vote with the majority, with different reasons from the decision of the majority.


Dissenting opinion explains the reasons for their disagreement or dissension of the majority opinion.


Example:  The U.S. Supreme Court’s Associate Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer are the only Democrats.  Over the years, they have written dissenting opinions, disagreeing with majority decisions made by the Supreme Court.



African-American Justices


Thurgood Marshall (D) was the first African-American Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Previously, he had been the attorney for Brown in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  President Lyndon Johnson appointed him.


Clarence Thomas (R) was the second African-American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  President George Bush, the elder, appointed him.



Legal Vocabulary


Stare Decisis is a Latin phrase meaning, “let the decision stand”.  The vast majority of cases reaching the courts are settled on this principle.


De jure facto is a Latin phrase meaning, “by the fact of”, “in fact”, “whether right or not”.




De jure segregation is a Latin phrase meaning, “from the law”, “by right”.


Ex post facto law provides punishment for deeds that are not illegal.