February 27, 2019
On April 9, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued an opinion authored by Judge Stephen Reinhardt. While the ten judges who sat on the case all agreed with the ultimate outcome, a number reached the conclusion for different reasons. But it was Reinhardt’s opinion, which was joined by four other judges, that served as the majority opinion and which, thus, served as precedent for all future 9th Circuit cases on the subject matter.
There was one teeny problem. Judge Reinhardt died on March 29, 2018, 11 days before the decision was issued.
In an unsigned opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, even though Judge Reinhardt “fully participated in the case,” there is nothing in the law that would prevent a judge from changing his or her mind at any time before an opinion is released and that, therefore, the decision could not stand.
Federal judges, the Court wrote, are “appointed for life, not for eternity.”