In its early years, after the adoption of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Court, following the practice of English common-law courts--specifically the King's Bench--typically rendered decisions in the form of per curiam and seriatim opinions.
During the tenure of Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth (1796-1800), the third Chief Justice of the Court, seriatim opinions became less common and were abandoned during the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835), who orchestrated consolidated opinions among the justices, much to the chagrin of Thomas Jefferson.
43) For example, Professor David Currie noted the difficulty posed in extracting a holding from the seriatim opinions
in the early and still important case of Calder v Bull (1798) 3 U.
61 ("This practice of seriatim opinions
would persist until the appointment of Marshall, who put an abrupt end to it.
114) Over the next 50 years, individual, seriatim opinions
were gradually faded out, but dissenting opinions nonetheless remained.
A single opinion of the Court is more powerful than a group of seriatim opinions
because a single opinion gives "the Court an institutional voice .
In the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Jay, more important cases were generally dealt with in seriatim opinions
, and briefer, unattributed opinions or decrees were labeled by Dallas as being "by the Court.
Allegations along those lines may still be levelled against judges when delivery of seriatim opinions
is the norm (no matter how unfairly).
The presence of a dissenting Justice demonstrates that behind the word "Court" in the "opinion of the Court" sit individual Justices, with only the fact that they constitute a majority of the Court's membership separating them from their predecessors who filed seriatim opinions
BRIGHAM, supra note 20, at 187; see also ZoBell, supra note 21, at 194 ("Jefferson favored a return to 'the sound practice of the primitive court' of delivering seriatim opinions
96) In adopting the single opinion, Marshall deliberately departed from the traditional mode of seriatim opinions
by each of the Justices, which had prevailed under his predecessors and was also the custom in both the state and English courts.
The order in which the seriatim opinions
were published (and apparently delivered) was strictly by reverse seniority, with the most junior Justice (James Iredell or William Paterson) delivering his opinion first and Chief Justice Jay delivering his last.