Scholarship Highlight: The Supreme Court’s Misuse Of Per Curiam Opinions, by Ira Robbins, SCOTUSblog
“Per Curiam” is a Latin phrase that means “by the court.” It is sometimes used to distinguish an opinion written by the entire court rather than one of the judges.
When I worked for a Justice at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, I saw only one “per curiam” opinion handed down by the Court. Courts don’t decide appeals overnight. It usually takes a year or two before the Court renders an appeal. In this one unique situation, a case had languished for an inordinately long time. I will never know why the judge to whom the appeal had been assigned never got around to it.
To resolve the situation, the Chief Justice re-assigned the case to another judge, who made this particular appeal a priority. As quickly as possible, he wrote a draft opinion circulated to the rest of the court for consideration. When the opinion was adopted and handed down by the Court, the author written on the opinion itself said “per curiam.” The judge who actually wrote the opinion did not want to be unfairly criticized for the delay.
“Per curiam” can be used for other reasons. This post by Ira Robbins at SCOTUS Blog elaborates on the history, use, and misuse of this legal term of art. -CCE