The Volokh Conspiracy

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Justice Thomas Beats Out Justice Ginsburg for First Signed Opinion of OT 2019

The Notorious RBG is a notoriously quick opinion writer, but not this year.


This morning, the Supreme Court released the first signed opinion of the term in an argued case in Rotkiske v. Klemm, a case concerning the statute of limitations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Although the subject matter of this case may not sound particularly exciting, there are several notable things about today's opinion.

First, Justice Thomas wrote the opinion for the court. This is notable because Justice Ginsburg is often the first justice to issue a signed opinion in an argued case. Indeed, this is the first time since OT 2015 that the first opinion in an argued case was not written by RBG.

Second, Rotkiske was not unanimous. Rather, it was 8-1. Justice Sotomayor wrote a separate concurrence and Justice Ginsburg wrote an opinion dissenting-in-part and dissenting in the judgment. So while she didn't have the first opinion for the Court, Justice Ginsburg did get write the term's first dissent in an argued case.

The lack of unanimity in Rotkiske is interesting because early opinions are usually unanimous opinions. After all, it's easier to finalize an opinion when the answer is clear and there's no need for extensive back-and-forth among the justices. So it's unusual for the first opinion to come in a case that splits the Court and produces multiple opinions. Early Per Curiam opinions are no surprise. Early divided opinions are.

Rotkiske was the only decision released today, but word is there could be more tomorrow.