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    07.03.18 Professor William Araiza Discusses Recent SCOTUS Rulings with Law360
    Bill Araiza

    Professor William Araiza, a widely published constitutional law scholar, discussed recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court with Law360, explaining how the justices used their opinions to sway future decisions on key legal issues. With no precedent-setting majority opinions in the SCOTUS term, the individual justices wrote separate concurring opinions aimed at influencing lower court decisions on contentious matters.

    “I think what’s going on is the conservative and liberal justices are essentially tugging at the main opinion to pull it in the direction [in which] the concurring justice wants it to be read,” said Araiza. “What it suggests is that the majority opinions we’re talking about are really very fragile. They’re very narrow and very contested.”

    For example, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that Araiza followed closely, the justices did not address key First Amendment questions, leaving lower courts to interpret and apply their decision in similar cases.

    “I think Kagan and Gorsuch are trying to lay the groundwork for that future court being able to read Masterpiece in their preferred ways,” said Araiza, the author of Animus: A Short Introduction to Bias in the Law (NYU Press 2017. “These opinions are designed as guidance for lower courts so that the lower court has something to hang its hat on when it decides to read a particular majority opinion one way or the other.”

    The court issued a similarly narrow ruling in Gill v. Whitford, another closely watched case. The court sided with Wisconsin state officials who allegedly gerrymandered a state electoral map to benefit Republicans, saying the Democratic plaintiffs failed to prove standing. However, the court left open the possibility for Democrats to fix their lawsuit on remand—and again the justices used their opinions to influence how lower courts should interpret the decision.

    Araiza said that one of the primary reasons for the concurrences is to essentially lay claim to the majority opinion. “That way, in some future case, either a conservative or a liberal majority can point to that majority opinion and say, ‘The correct way to read that is as follows.’”

    Read the article: Narrow Rulings Reveal Wide Gulfs Between Justices