Majority Opinion

Majority Opinion in the United States

A statement of the reasons an appellate court reached a particular decision. The opinion is the rationale for a finding or conclusion, and a majority opinion represents the thinking of at least a majority of the judges hearing the case. A court’s opinion is distinct from its decision, which is the judgment itself. A majority opinion is written by one member of the court rendering the decision and reflects the principle^) of law that a majority of the court views as governing a particular decision. An opinion from a clear majority of an appellate court has greater value as a legal precedent than an opinion representing less than a majority.

See Also

Concurring Opinion (Apellate Judicial Process) Dissenting Opinion (Apellate Judicial Process) Per Curiam Opinion (Apellate Judicial Process) Precedence (Apellate Judicial Process).

Analysis and Relevance

The presence of a majority opinion produces the most valuable statement of a legal principle under Stare Decisis (U.S.), or adherence to previous decisions. In some cases, a court may not be able to fashion consensus around one opinion, in which case a plurality opinion is issued. Its language is agreed to by less than a majority, but the case can be resolved as members of the court concur or agree to the result if not the supporting rationale. Apart from the majority opinion are the separate or individual opinions, such as the concurring and dissenting opinions. A concurrence is an opinion that agrees in result with the majority, but disagrees with the majority reasoning. A dissent disagrees with both result and rationale. Assignment of majority opinion writing responsibility occurs in conference. On the U.S. Supreme Court, the chief justice assigns the task to one of the justices among the majority. If the chief justice is in the minority, assignment is handled by the most senior associate justice on the majority side. The assigned justice drafts an initial version of the opinion trying to integrate the views of those among the majority. The draft is then circulated and discussed. The discussion is aimed at both retaining the original voting majority and persuading those previously in the minority to join the majority position. When the majority position cannot accommodate all views, individual opinions will be written. When no opinion will be supported by a majority, the designated opinion of the court is a plurality opinion. A case that does not have a majority opinion lacks any authoritative statement on the legal issue(s) considered in the case.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Majority Opinion from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California


Majority Opinion in the Context of Law Research

The Thurgood Marshall School of Law Library defined briefly Majority Opinion as: An opinion that is written by one member of the court and represents the principles of law that a majority of his or her colleagues on the court deem operative in a given decision.Legal research resources, including Majority Opinion, help to identify the law that governs an activity and to find materials that explain that law.

Majority Opinion: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Majority Opinion. This part provides references, in relation to Majority Opinion, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Majority Opinion by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Majority Opinion and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Majority Opinion or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Majority Opinion and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Majority Opinion. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Majority Opinion should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Majority Opinion when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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