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When the Supreme Court hears a case it can take a while for it to issue a verdict. Typically, after hearing oral arguments, the Justices have to decide the case. They do so at what is known as the Justices' Conference. When Court is in session, there are two conferences scheduled per week – one on Wednesday afternoon and one on Friday afternoon.

After each Justice states their views on the casein confrence, the justices cast their vote starting with the Chief Justice.

When exactly does the Supreme Court's decision become binding on lower courts in the country?

Does the opinion become binding right after the justices cast their vote or not until they publish their opinion months later? Assuming not until later, would a unanimous decision be binding right away?

If not, are lower courts free to disregard the Supreme Court's votes until an official opinion is published during the summer?

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The Supreme Court's order is not official and binding until it is "delivered in open Court." See uscourts.gov, "Supreme Court Procedures."

Until that point in time, the Court has not produced any legal information for lower courts to follow or disregard.

When the Court hears an appeal on the merits, it will generally delay issuing its order until the reasons are prepared. On emergency motions (e.g. requesting a stay of execution), these orders are often released immediately after the Court votes, and often without reasons.

If there were an urgent matter requiring an order as soon as possible after hearing, I do not see anything that would prevent the Court from announcing the order and delaying written reasons until later, but even in Bush v. Gore, they were able to decide the case and produce written reasons in one day.

There is also a narrow and seldom-used ground for the Court to revisit a final order by petition for rehearing (see Rule 44 and Brian De Vito, "When U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Are Not Final: An Examination of the Rehearing Rule and the Court's Application of it in Kennedy v. Louisiana" (2010)).

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  • Thanks for your reply No opinion is considered the official opinion of the Court until it is delivered in open Court (or at least made available to the public). How does "delivered in open Court" differ from "made available to the public"? Does the Court ever make an order available on the same day as it votes?
    – S.O.S
    Mar 21, 2023 at 0:07
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    @S.O.S the justices can change their votes until the decision is published (whether delivered in open court or, as is usually the case with orders, published online). As the conference votes aren't binding on the justices, it makes even less sense for them to be binding on lower courts.
    – phoog
    Mar 21, 2023 at 1:33

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