Georgia Supreme Court Blog

March 12, 2010

Out in Left Field? Justice Hunstein’s 2010 Opinions

Filed under: Carol Hunstein, Justices — bce30064 @ 3:31 pm

Justice Hunstein

Justice Hunstein


A survey of the Georgia Supreme Court’s 2010 opinions reveals that Chief Justice Hunstein is increasingly at odds with her fellow justices. Justice Hunstein has become the Court’s most frequent dissenter. Her ideological differences with fellow justices is most evident with respect to the rights of criminal defendants. Justice Hunstein appears less likely to affirm criminal convictions because of procedural irregularities than other justices.

Justice Hunstein has dissented in seven cases so far in 2010. See data on Justice Hunstein’s 2010 votes. Additionally, Justice Hunstein is demonstrating an increased tendency to issue concurring opinions, or concur in judgment only without joining the majority opinion. She has concurred in three cases thus far in 2010. By comparison, Justice Hines has dissented once and concurred in two cases. See data on Justice Hines’ 2010 votes.

What accounts for this trend? Is Justice Hunstein “out in left field”? The apparent trend may regress to the mean as the Court issues more opinions this year. Perhaps serving as Chief Justice has inspired Justice Hunstein to assert greater ideological independence. Another factor could be that the conservative shift in the Court caused by Justice Nahmias replacing Chief Justice Sears has increase the distance between Justice Hunstein and the center of the Court.

Two concluding thoughts to soften what may appear to be a criticism of Justice Hunstein. First, the Georgia Supreme Court still maintains a high degree of unanimity. Despite an apparent increase in her willingness to issue dissenting opinions, Justice Hunstein nevertheless casts a majority vote in over 90% of cases before the court.

Second, dissent is good. The State Supreme Court confronts complex issues and enjoys substantial discretion in the cases it hears. Based on the trial and intermediate appellate court records, legal minds disagree on the merits of cases far more than the tally of Georgia Supreme Court voting would indicate. One may wonder if the court is simply too collegial. As Henry Ford one said: “If two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” If seven Justices agree all the time, is that a good thing?

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