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Final Word On U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing

Publication Date: 
May 24, 2014
Source: 
The New York Times
Author: 
Adam Liptak

Professor Jeffrey Fisher spoke with the New York Times' Adam Liptak about why every word matter in Supreme Court Opinions.

The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon.

The court can act quickly, as when Justice Antonin Scalia last month corrected an embarrassing error in a dissent in a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The larger point, said Jeffrey L. Fisher, a law professor at Stanford, is that Supreme Court decisions are parsed by judges and scholars with exceptional care. “In Supreme Court opinions, every word matters,” he said. “When they’re changing the wording of opinions, they’re basically rewriting the law.”