A dissenting opinion (or dissent) is an opinion in a legal case in certain legal systems written by one or more judges expressing disagreement with the majority opinion of the court which gives rise to its judgment. When not necessarily referring to a legal decision, this can also be referred to as a minority report.
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Dissenting opinions are normally written at the same time as the majority opinion and any concurring opinions, and are also delivered and published at the same time. A dissenting opinion does not create binding precedent nor does it become a part of case law. However, they can sometimes be cited as a form of persuasive authority in subsequent cases when arguing that the court's holding should be limited or overturned. In some cases, a previous dissent is used to spur a change in the law, and a later case may result in a majority opinion adopting a particular understanding of the law formerly advocated in dissent. As with concurring opinions, the difference in opinion between dissents and majority opinions can often illuminate the precise holding of the majority opinion.
The dissent may disagree with the majority for any number of reasons: a different interpretation of the existing case law, the application of different principles, or a different interpretation of the facts. Many legal systems do not provide for a dissenting opinion and provide the decision without any information regarding the discussion between judges or its outcome.
Types of dissenting opinions
A dissent in part is a dissenting opinion that disagrees selectively—specifically, with one part of the majority holding. In decisions that require holdings with multiple parts due to multiple legal claims or consolidated cases, judges may write an opinion "concurring in part and dissenting in part".
Dissenting opinions by region
In some courts, such as the Supreme Court of the United States, the majority opinion may be broken down into numbered or lettered parts, which allows those judges "dissenting in part" to easily identify which parts they join with the majority, and which sections they do not.
In the mid-20th century, it became customary for the members of the U.S. Supreme Court and many state supreme courts to end their dissenting opinions with a variation on the phrase "I respectfully dissent." In turn, the omission of the word "respectfully" or of the entire phrase altogether is now taken as a signal that the dissenting justice is particularly furious at the majority over the issue dissented upon.
Susan Kiefel, Chief Justice of Australia, has expressed concern at the frequency of judicial dissents and the attention given to them by law students and legal commentators. She believes that they should be reserved for only the most important cases, and has described judges who frequently dissent as "somewhat self-indulgent". She further observed that "humorous dissent may provide the author with fleeting popularity, but it may harm the image the public has of the court and its judges".
- Definition of "minority report". Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved Nov 2012.
- Definition of "minority report", Macmillan Dictionary Retrieved Nov 2012.
- Auerbach, David (26 June 2015). "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Scalia". Slate. Slate Group LLC. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
- Jeremy Gans (1 May 2018). "The great assenters". Inside Story. Retrieved 4 May 2018.