Scalia Assigns Opinion to Sotomayor. Sotomayor and Roberts Cite Garner.

January 14th, 2015

The decision in T-Mobile v. City of Roswell presents an odd split. Justice Sotomayor writes for the majority, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, Alito (in judgment), and Kagan. In dissent were CJ Roberts, Justices Ginsburg and Thomas. That means that Justice Scalia would have assigned the majority to Justice Sotomayor. How often does that happen?

Fittingly, in a footnote Justice Sotomayor cites Justice Scalia’s and Garner’s “Reading Law” in a paragraph where petitioners cite Garner’s Black’s Dictionary!

First, petitioner argues that the word “decision” in the statute—the thing that must be “in writing”—connotes a written document that itself provides all the reasons for a given judgment. See Brief for Petitioner 24 (quoting Black’s Law Dictionary 407 (6th ed. 1990) (a “decision” is a written document providing “‘the reasons given for [a] judgment’”)). But even petitioner concedes, with its pre­ ferred dictionary in hand, that the word “decision” can also mean “something short of a statement of reasons explain­ ing a determination.” Brief for Petitioner 24 (citing Black’s Law Dictionary, at 407).5

FN5. One of petitioner’s amici argues that Congress has used the word “decision” in the context of other communications laws to mean some­ thing more than a judgment or verdict. See Brief for Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America (Chamber) et al. 9–13. But while it is true that a word used across “the same act” should be given the same meaning, see Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Ltd., 566 U. S. ___, ___ (2012) (slip op., at 10), the Chamber’s evidence is less persua­ sive because it arises out of entirely different “acts” and does not involve any term of art. By relying on other parts of Title 47 of the U. S. Code—some enacted in the Communications Act of 1934 decades before the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 at issue here—the Chamber stretches to invoke this canon of construction beyond its most forceful application. See A. Scalia & B. Garner, Read­ ing Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 172–173 (2012).

Not to be outdone, CJ Roberts cites Garner’s “Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage” in dissent:

But like the majority, I reject T- Mobile’s contention that the term “decision” inherently demands a statement of reasons. Dictionary definitions support that conclusion. See ante, at 12 (citing Black’s Law Dictionary); see also B. Garner, A Dictionary of Mod- ern Legal Usage 251 (2d ed. 1995) (grouping “decision” with “judgment,” as distinct from “opinion”).