In this day and age you’d wonder why all appellate decisions are not “published.” Many of not all are available either to lawyers through a research service or the general public through court websites. So what’s going on; some attention is being paid to the topic of unpublished opinions.
For the non-lawyer it is important to know, whether or not you understand it, that only “published” opinions are binding precedent on the lower courts, and a matter of stare decisis for appellate courts.
A couple weeks ago, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, issued a dissent from denial of cert in Plumley v. Austin, a criminal justice case. In the main, Thomas’s opinion argued that the decision below was wrong on the merits and conflicted with other circuit decisions. But, in a passage that has sparked some debate, Thomas also argued that the Fourth Circuit below had erred in declining to publish its opinion, allegedly in order to “avoid creating binding law for the Circuit.” Thomas’s opinion may be a signal about circuit publication practices and, more specifically, about the proper direction of future Fourth Circuit jurisprudence.
Here is a piece from The New York Times, same subject. Courts Write Decisions That Elude Long View.
Volokh Conspiracy has some stats.