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Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Bingo Predicts the Author of the CLS opinion

October 17, 2017

With all of the caveats that Supreme Court Bingo is not an absolutely 100% accurate prediction tool, I am going out on a limb here to predict that Chief Justice John Roberts is writing the decision in the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez decision.  That would be good news for the supporters of First Amendment freedoms.

For those of you new to this, the Supreme Court has patterns in assigning opinions to the justices, so as the decisions come down, there is a semi-accurate way to predict which justice is writing a specific decision.  At ADF, we call this process, "Supreme Court Bingo," and that link explains the basics of how it works.

Today, the high court handed down four more decisions, with eleven cases yet to be decided by the end of the term, which should be by the end of June.  For the cases heard in April, only two remain - the CLS case, and the Doe #1 case.  (Doe #1 concerned whether voters who signed a petition in Washigton State to repeal a "domestic partners" law could keep their names private from activists who oppose their views.  Jim Bopp argued that case for the petition signers). 

Three justices have not written a decision from the April sitting, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Chief Justice.   John Paul Stevens has written two decisions in March.  I think it is unlikely that he is writing an opinion from the April sitting, although he cannot be totally eliminated as an author of an opinion from a case heard in April.  That means that the Chief Justice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are the most likely to be writing the last two April cases. 

In a situation like this, Supreme Court Bingo shows its limitations and offers us no prediction on who is writing each decision.  However,   I was fortunate enough to attend the oral arguments in both of those cases (CLS and Doe #1).  I was able to watch the interpersonal dynamics among the justices on these cases.  John Roberts gave a strong, emotional defense of CLS's legal positions in this case.  If the Chief is in the majority, he can assign the writing of the opinion to himself.  I can clearly see him doing so because of his strong support for CLS's legal arguments.   If the Chief Justice is writing the CLS decision, I expect it to be strong and favorable to First Amendment rights.

Also, Justice Ginsburg joined the chorus of other justices supporting Jim Bopp in the Doe #1 case.  Therefore, I believe she is writing a decision favorable to Jim Bopp in the Doe #1 case.

The Court will hand down decisions on Thursday, June 24 and Monday, June 28, and perhaps another day.  I would predict that there will be a third day to hand down decisions, which will be the last day of the term - on Wednesday, June 30.   Stay tuned.

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