Anatomy of a Supreme Court Opinion
Analyzing Primary Legal Documents
Part I. Syllabus
Part II. Main Opinion
Concurring and Dissenting Opinions
When reading a Supreme Court opinion, you should be able to identify the following:
II. Legal Disputes: the legal issues, questions, and main arguments being presented in the case.
III. Disposition: the action the court is taking (usually located at the end of the main opinion)
IV. Law: the Court's legal reasoning or holding (section included in the main opinion). Try to identify at least one principle of law that the Court outlines as a basis for its ruling.
Critical Thinking Component: What is the significance and scope of the opinion?
- How does the court's decision resolve the original story presented in the case?
- What do you think will be its application beyond the particular facts of the case?
- What precedents might it establish?