Law | Opinion

Opinion: Justice Sotomayor and dissent in Indian trust case

"If you’ve ever found yourself in a debate with a room full of brilliant people at the end of which not a single mind is changed, you know what it’s like to be a Supreme Court Justice on the losing end of an 8-1 decision. Nobody thinks you have the better end of the argument and your opinion tends to be less interesting for what it says about the matter at hand than for what it seems to say about you.

That’s why 10 Supreme Court decisions from last term, all of them decided 8-1, deserve a little more scrutiny. When a justice writes a lone dissent, she opens a window into her jurisprudence. Look closely, and you can see what worries her most. Last term, only one such dissent received widespread attention, when Justice Samuel Alito broke from the majority in Snyder v. Phelps. Alito sided with Albert Snyder, the father of a fallen soldier who sued the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s funeral. Snyder had all the makings of a blockbuster case: two compelling parties, a pressing issue, and a result that made all but the most devoted free speech purists a little queasy. Another case from last term, U.S v. Jicarilla Apache Nation didn’t have any of the same advantages. A dispute involving attorney-client privilege and a mismanaged trust, Jicarilla combined the gray tedium of case law with the byzantine complexity of the Bar exam. When the decision was handed down in June, even in legal circles, it barely made a ripple.

It should have. For Jicarilla, like Snyder boasted a powerful solo dissent—this time from Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first and only one she has authored in two years on the Court."

Get the Story:
John Paul Rollert: A Matter of Trusts (Slate 12/20)

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