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A plurality opinion is in certain legal systems the opinion from one or more judges or justices of an appellate court which provides the rationale for the disposition of an appeal when no single opinion received the support of a majority of the court. The plurality opinion did not receive the support of more than half the justices, but still received more support than any other opinion, excluding those justices dissenting from the holding of the court.
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In Marks v. United States , 430 U.S. 188 (1977), the Supreme Court of the United States explained how the holding of a case should be viewed where there is no majority supporting the rationale of any opinion: “When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.”
That requires lower courts to look at all opinions to determine which is the most narrow compared to others. This opinion will be called the controlling opinion, and can be a mere concurrence, not the plurality.
The Marks Rule has raised the following schools of thought regarding the appropriate basis for determining the holding in such fractured cases: (a) the narrowest analysis essential to the result derived from a combination of all concurring opinions,(b) the concurring opinion offering the narrowest rationale, or (c) only those parts of the concurring opinions which overlap and arrive at the same result. For example, if one follows the first interpretation, then the holding in the case should be viewed as the narrowest rationale supported by all of the concurring opinions read together as though it were a single majority opinion, and where there is a conflict, the opinion based on the narrowest ground governs. Followers of the second rationale would find the concurring opinion offering the narrowest analysis to be the holding. Whereas, under the third interpretation, only the rationale(s) common to all concurring opinions which arrive at the same result(s) (and to the exclusion of all other rationales) is considered the holding.
A good example of a plurality opinion can be found in the Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board , 553 U.S. 181 (2008). In considering whether Indiana's voter identification law passed constitutional muster, three justices believed the proper analysis was to apply the balancing approach laid down in Anderson v. Celebrezze , 460 U.S. 780 (1983). Three other justices agreed with the outcome of the Anderson approach, but believed the proper analysis was to apply the rule in Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), which "forged Anderson's amorphous 'flexible standard' into something resembling an administrable rule." Regardless of the approach used, a reading of the opinions together results in a holding that "neutral, nondiscriminatory regulation of voting procedure" is constitutional so long as the burden imposed by the regulation is minimal or not severe.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case regarding abortion. In a plurality opinion, the Court upheld a right to have an abortion that was established in Roe v. Wade (1973), and altered the standard for analyzing restrictions on that right, crafting the undue burden standard for abortion restrictions.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court decision on upholding a Missouri law that imposed restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counseling an abortions. The Supreme Court in Webster allowed for states to legislate in an aspect that had previously been thought to be forbidden under Roe v. Wade (1973).
In law, a concurring opinion is in certain legal systems a written opinion by one or more judges of a court which agrees with the decision made by the majority of the court, but states different reasons as the basis for their decision. When no absolute majority of the court can agree on the basis for deciding the case, the decision of the court may be contained in a number of concurring opinions, and the concurring opinion joined by the greatest number of judges is referred to as the plurality opinion.
Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court split on the First Amendment issue of local school boards removing library books from junior high schools and high schools. Four ruled that it was unconstitutional, four Justices concluded the contrary, and one Justice concluded that the court need not decide the question on the merits. Pico was the first Supreme Court case to consider the right to receive information in a library setting under the First Amendment, but the court's fractured plurality decision left the scope of this right unclear.
City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court affirmed its abortion rights jurisprudence. In an opinion by Justice Powell, the Court struck down several provisions of an Ohio abortion law, including portions found to be unconstitutionally vague.
Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that struck down the police practice of first obtaining an inadmissible confession without giving Miranda warnings, then issuing the warnings, and then obtaining a second confession. Justice David Souter announced the judgment of the Court and wrote for a plurality of four justices that the second confession was admissible only if the intermediate Miranda warnings were "effective enough to accomplish their object." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion that the second confession should be inadmissible only if "the two-step interrogation technique was used in a calculated way to undermine the Miranda warning."
Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006), was a United States Supreme Court case challenging federal jurisdiction to regulate isolated wetlands under the Clean Water Act. It was the first major environmental case heard by the newly appointed Chief Justice, John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. The Supreme Court heard the case on February 21, 2006 and issued a decision on June 19, 2006.
Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the First Amendment and the ability of the government to outlaw certain forms of expressive conduct. It ruled that the state has the constitutional authority to ban public nudity, even as part of expressive conduct such as dancing, because it furthers a substantial government interest in protecting the morality and order of society. This case is perhaps best summarized by a sentence in Justice Souter's concurring opinion, which is often paraphrased as "Nudity itself is not inherently expressive conduct."
MANual Enterprises, Inc. v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 (1962), is a decision by the United States Supreme Court which held that magazines consisting largely of photographs of nude or near-nude male models are not obscene within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1461. It was the first case in which the Court engaged in plenary review of a Post Office Department order holding obscene matter "nonmailable."
A judicial opinion is a form of legal opinion written by a judge or a judicial panel in the course of resolving a legal dispute, providing the decision reached to resolve the dispute, and usually indicating the facts which led to the dispute and an analysis of the law used to arrive at the decision.
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008), is a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of a particular method of lethal injection used for capital punishment.
Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498 (1998), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act constituted an unconstitutional regulatory taking of property which required the Act to be invalidated. The import of this decision is that it was made in the context of a purely economic regulation. The plurality examines the statute and its resultant harm as an ad hoc factual inquiry based on factors delineated in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, such as the economic impact of the regulation, its interference with reasonable investment backed expectations, and the character of the governmental action. The decision thereby moved beyond the traditional notions of equal protection which had been applied to economic regulation since the time of Lochner v. New York, requiring extreme deference to Congress, and applied a regulatory takings analysis to the problem resulting in a much less deferential result. While the plurality recognizes that this is not a traditional takings case where the government appropriates private property for public use, they also state this is the type of case where the "Armstrong Principle" of preventing the government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole. However, while the plurality seems to invalidate this particular law on takings grounds, the concurrences and the dissents warn of such an analysis as this should actually be examined under substantive due process or ex post facto theories.
Bilski v. Kappos, 561 U.S. 593 (2010), was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States holding that the machine-or-transformation test is not the sole test for determining the patent eligibility of a process, but rather "a useful and important clue, an investigative tool, for determining whether some claimed inventions are processes under § 101." In so doing, the Supreme Court affirmed the rejection of an application for a patent on a method of hedging losses in one segment of the energy industry by making investments in other segments of that industry, on the basis that the abstract investment strategy set forth in the application was not patentable subject matter.
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U.S. 291 (2014), was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States concerning affirmative action and race- and sex-based discrimination in public university admissions. In a 6-2 decision, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause does not prevent states from enacting bans on affirmative action in education.
Yates v. United States, 574 U.S. 528 (2015), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court construed 18 U.S.C. § 1519, a provision added to the federal criminal code by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to criminalize the destruction or concealment of "any record, document, or tangible object" to obstruct a federal investigation. By a 5-to-4 vote, the Court stated that the term "tangible object" as used in this section means an object used to record or preserve information, and that this did not include fish.
Kerry v. Din, 576 U.S. 86 (2015), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court analyzed whether there is a constitutional right to live in the United States with one's spouse and whether procedural due process requires consular officials to give notice of reasons for denying a visa application. In Justice Anthony Kennedy's concurring opinion, the controlling opinion in this case, he wrote that notice requirements “[do] not apply when, as in this case, a visa application is denied due to terrorism or national security concerns.” Because the consular officials satisfied notice requirements, there was no need for the Court to address the constitutional question about the right to live with one's spouse.
Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. 155 (2015), is a case in which the United States Supreme Court clarified when municipalities may impose content-based restrictions on signage. The case also clarified the level of constitutional scrutiny that should be applied to content-based restrictions on speech. In 2005, Gilbert, Arizona adopted a municipal sign ordinance that regulated the manner in which signs could be displayed in public areas. The ordinance imposed stricter limitations on signs advertising religious services than signs that displayed "political" or "ideological" messages. When the town's Sign Code compliance manager cited a local church for violating the ordinance, the church filed a lawsuit in which they argued the town's sign regulations violated its First Amendment right to the freedom of speech.
Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977), is a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that explained how the holding of a case should be viewed where there is no majority supporting the rationale of any opinion.
Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994), is a United States Supreme Court case holding that, where a capital defendant's future dangerousness is at issue, and the only alternative sentence available is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the sentencing jury must be informed that the defendant is ineligible for parole.
American Legion v. American Humanist Association, 588 U.S. ___ (2019), was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with the separation of church and state related to maintaining the Peace Cross, a World War I memorial shaped after a Latin cross, on government-owned land, though initially built in 1925 with private funds on private lands. The case was a consolidation of two petitions to the court, that of The American Legion who built the cross, and of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission who own the land and maintain the memorial. Both petitions challenged the Fourth Circuit's ruling that, regardless of the secular purpose the cross was built for in honoring the deceased soldiers, the cross emboldened a religious symbol and had ordered it altered or razed. The Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit's ruling in a 7–2 decision, determining that since the Cross had stood for decades without controversy, it did not violate the Establishment Clause and could remain standing.