Recently, the New York Times published this article discussing the interesting fact that the Supreme Court sometimes revises the text of its decisions, even years after the decisions were issued, without any public notification of the changes.
Did you know that with HeinOnline you can access both the slip opinions and the final version of a decision to compare the two? HeinOnline contains the full archive of the U.S. Reports as well as the United States Slip Opinions and United States Reports Preliminary Prints from 2002 to date. Let’s take a look at one of the cases discussed in the New York Times article, Lawrence et al. v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), to illustrate how HeinOnline can be used to compare the text in a slip opinion to that of the final version in the U.S. Reports.
In the U.S. Supreme Court Library, choose the search tab, advanced search option and enter “Lawrence et al. v. Texas” in the Case Title field. Click search, and you will see that the results include this case in all three of the United States Supreme Court publications.
The article talks about Justice O’Connor’s concurrence to the opinion of the court, and how a statement concerning Justice Scalia has been deleted from the official record. Page through the text of the slip opinion, and you will find this page, containing the highlighted text shown below:
However, the same case in the U.S. Reports is missing this text:
As both the article and the above example illustrate, substantive changes can be made even after a formal decision is issued. The article acknowledges that the Supreme Court often faces time constraints that force them to issue opinions that may still be “works in progress.”