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In the Supreme Court, after the oral arguments of both parties are over, the case is submitted for decision.  Cases are decided by majority vote of the Justices.  The general practice of the Supreme Court is to issue decisions in all cases argued in a particular Term by the end of that Term.  Within that Term, however, the Court is under no obligation to release a decision within any set time after oral argument.  At the conclusion of oral argument, the Justices retire to another conference at which the preliminary votes are tallied, and the most senior Justice in the majority assigns the initial draft of the Court’s opinion to a Justice on his or her side.  Drafts of the Court’s opinion, as well as any concurring or dissenting opinions, circulate among the Justices until the Court is prepared to announce the judgment in a particular case.

It is possible that sometimes the Court divides evenly on a case.  If that occurs, then the decision of the court below is affirmed, but does not establish binding precedent.  For a case to be heard there must be a quorum of at least six justices.  If a quorum is not available to hear a case and a majority of qualified justices believes that the case cannot be heard and determined in the next term, then the judgment of the court below is affirmed as if the Court had been evenly divided.  For cases brought directly to the Supreme Court by direct appeal from a United States District Court, the Chief Justice may order the case remanded to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals for a final decision there.

Inside Decisions