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Friday, May 9, 2008

Behind the Controversy over the Per Curiam Opinions of the Texas Supreme Court

Jessica R. Alexander, Reference Librarian
The Texas Supreme Court is being criticized for the rate at which it issues per curiam versus signed opinions. (ABA Journal, online edition, posted May 8, 2008). The group, Texas Watch, issued the report. (Per curiam decisions are issued by a panel of the Court, are not signed by any justice, and thus have no majority or dissenting opinions.) Texas Watch argues that these opinions reduce the accountability of Texas Supreme Court judges and the rate at which they are issued is an anomaly compared with other state judiciaries and specifically the United States Supreme Court.

Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 47 Opinions, Publication and Citation and its subdivisions are the controlling rules. Designation and Signing of Opinions;Participating Justices. Annual reports on the Texas Judiciary are posted at the website, Texas Courts Online. The 2007 annual report on Supreme Court activity is posted at http://www.courts.state.tx.us/pubs/AR2007/sc/2-sc-activity-2007.pdf .

It cites Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 59.1 as the controlling rule for per curiam decisions. This rule provides: 59.1 Submission Without Argument. If at least six members of the Court so vote, a petition may be granted and an opinion handed down without oral argument. It seems that the report could more clearly explain the process if it delved into the intricacies and contradictions of Rule 47.