Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A new development in the Court system

The Supreme Court voted to change the rules and allow unpublished opinions in federal courts starting Dec. 1.

In many jurisdictions, unpublished opinions have no precedential value. The basic idea is that they are typically written by law clerks and staff attorneys (back to this in a moment). The appeals courts for four federal circuits at this time don't allow unpublished decisions at all while six others discourage them. The new rules will allow the circuits to determine the amount of weight they give to unpublished decisions, but will no longer allow them to ban them.

One of the biggest opponents to allowing unpublished opinions is 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski. He compared the idea of allowing the opinions written by law clerks and staff attorneys with making sausage: "When the people making the sausage tell you it's not safe for human consumption, it seems strange indeed to have a committee in Washington tell people to go ahead and eat it anyway."

I don't agree with Judge Kozinski. If the decision is correct, then there should be no error in allowing it. Precedent is Precedent. It's based on the same statutes and same common laws. It makes little sense to me to have a sausage maker tell me, "Yeah, our factory made that sausage, but *I* didn't make it, so it's not good to eat." If it's not good, then don't issue it. If it is good, then use it. The end.

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