Last month, a collective “Really!?” rolled through the U.S. legal community when Harvard Law Professor Richard J. Lazarus published his study — and Adam Liptak reported it in The New York Times — revealing that the Supreme Court sometimes quietly revises its opinions years after they were issued, sometimes in ways that result in “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning.”
Yes, it turns out that bedrock law you relied on may be a bit looser than anyone knew. According to Lazarus, the only “final, official opinions” of the court are those in the printed bound volumes of the United States Reports. It can be as long as five years from when an opinion is handed down to when it becomes “final.”
In the meantime, how are lawyers and scholars to track changes to Supreme Court opinions? In many cases, the court’s process of making these changes is not open to the public, there is no notice to the public, and there is no contemporaneous public record.