Stephen Breyer adds ‘respect’ to his dissent of Amy Coney Barrett’s first opinion


(CNN)Justice Amy Coney Barrett filed her first signed majority opinion last week, a momentous occasion for any new justice, and now she officially has the “respect” of the dissenting side.

Under court tradition, a new justice is usually assigned a relatively uncontroversial opinion that is often, although not always, unanimous.

Over 11 pages of tightly crafted judicial reasoning, Barrett ruled in favor of the federal government in a case brought by environmental groups seeking Environmental Protection Agency materials under an exception to the Freedom of Information Act.

    Justice Amy Coney Barrett's first majority written opinion limits reach of FOIA

    But eyebrows were raised when Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, not only dissented, but omitted a key word in his dissent. Except in the most fiery cases when a justice really thinks the majority has gone astray, he or she usually ends an opinion with some formulation of “I respectfully dissent.”

      But in his opinion, Breyer left out the respect part.

        Court watchers wondered if Breyer — who is unfailingly polite and mindful of the court’s efforts at civility that sometimes distinguish it from the other branches of government, was trying to send a message to his new colleague. It seemed incredibly unlikely that the 82-year-old justice who at times can seem like a brilliant but absent-minded professor would mean any kind of slight.

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        In addition, the language in his dissent in the case concerning the reach of Freedom of Information Act was relatively mild.

            On Monday, without comment, the answer was clear. Breyer amended the opinion, clearly signaling that he meant no disrespect.

            At the very end, it now reads: “For these reasons, with respect, I dissent.”