The Volokh Conspiracy

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Supreme Court

Justice Barrett Authors First Supreme Court Decision of the Term

The Supreme Court has been slow to issue opinions this term, but the first opinion has finally been released.


Today the Supreme Court issued its first opinion for the October 2022 term, a short unanimous opinion by Justice Amy Coney Barrett in Arellano v. McDonough. The Court ususally issues a few opinions in the Fall, but not this year. For the first time in modern memory, the Court failed to issue any opinions until January. It has been a term of longer arguments and fewer opinions.

Arellano concerned veterans' disability benefits, and Justice Barret authored a clear and brief opinion. Here is her summary:

This case concerns the effective date of an award of disability compensation to a veteran of the United States military. The governing statute provides that the effective date of the award "shall not be earlier" than the day on which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives the veteran's application for benefits. But the statute specifies 16 exceptions, one of which is relevant here: If the VA receives the application within a year of the veteran's discharge, the effective date is the day after the veteran's discharge. We must decide whether this exception is subject to equitable tolling, a doctrine that would allow some applications filed outside the 1-year period to qualify for the "day after discharge" effective date. We hold that the provision cannot be equitably tolled.

That Justice Barrett authored the first opinion of the term is no surprise. More junior justices tend to get the less desirable opinion assignments, so they tend to draw less controversial (and often quite technical) cases. These decisions tend to be unanimous, and unanimous opinions are often produced more quickly because there is less back-and-forth between dueling opinions.

The most junior justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, is likely getting similar opinion assignments, but she is also brand new to the Court. It is likely she is still gaining her sea legs, so it would have been surprising had she been first out of the gate. She was also not a particularly quick opinion writer on the D.C. Circuit, authoring her first opinion eight months after joining that court.

This morning the Court also DIGged a case (as in, Dismissed as Improvidently Granted): In re Grand Jury, which concerned the extent to which attorney client privilege applies to communications containing both legal and non-legal advice.

The Court also denied certiorari in a number of cases, one of which—Toth v. United States, which concerns the Excessive Fines Clause — produced a Justice Gorsuch dissent.

No word yet on when the Court may issue more opinions.


[Note: Post revised as I initially referred to Justice Jackson as next-most junior justice, when she is the most junior justice.]