Per Curiam

The term per curiam refers to a decision made by a court of numerous judges, but without a particular author’s name attached to the decision. For example, per curiam decisions are typically short and concern issues that the court does not consider to be controversial in nature. However, this is not always the case, as sometimes the judges do not make per curiam decisions unanimously, the topic still being controversial. To explore this concept, consider the following per curiam definition.

Definition of Per Curiam


  1. A decision made by a court of multiple judges as a whole entity, rather than signed by one judge in particular.


Unknown           Latin     (translates to “by the court”)

What is Per Curiam?

The per curiam meaning refers to a written decision made on behalf of the entire court, rather than signed by one or several named judges. For example, per curiam decisions do not typically occur at the U.S. Supreme Court because one of the judges will typically sign off on every decision. Even if the Court makes a unanimous ruling, this does not make it a per curiam decision. The decision must be unsigned for it to count as one of the relevant per curiam examples.

Per Curiam Affirmed

When a decision is per curiam affirmed, this means that a court affirms the decision of a lower court to be correct without naming names. When a court makes a per curiam affirmed decision, it typically does not offer an opinion past the affirmation.

This is perhaps a way for the court to cut back on what are already scarce judicial resources. Put another way, if they had to write a full opinion on every case they decided, they would end up wasting more time than simply making a per curiam affirmed decision, which does not need further explanation.

En Banc vs. Per Curiam

The term en banc refers to a situation wherein all of the judges of a court hears a case, rather than selecting certain justices to hear it. An en banc session can still result in a per curiam decision. The only difference here is that there are more judges present in an en banc session who can render a unanimous decision without specifying which judges authored it. Courts typically hold en banc sessions on specific issues when a case is particularly important or complex.

Examples of Per Curiam Use

Per curiam examples do not normally occur at the Supreme Court, but they are not unheard of. State courts, however, are a different story. Two courts that often issue per curiam examples are the Supreme Courts of California and Florida, and the appellate courts in New York.

For example, per curiam decisions issued by the Supreme Court of Florida typically concern the death penalty, even if concurring or dissenting opinions exist. And while the Supreme Court of California often releases per curiam decisions, they are not always unanimous.

Per Curiam Example Involving a Presidential Election

Perhaps the most famous example of per curiam to occur at the U.S. Supreme Court was Bush v. Gore (2000). In this case, the Florida Division of Elections reported that the Republican Presidential candidate, Governor George W. Bush, had won the presidential election in November of 2000. However, he only won by less than 0.5 percent of the votes, which, by law, triggers an automatic recount. Two days later, when the recount was complete in all but one county, Bush’s margin of victory had fallen.

Lawsuits and Deadlines

Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, then brought a lawsuit demanding that manual recounts occur in four counties in Florida. The counties granted Gore’s request and began to perform the 9,000 recounts by hand. However, Florida law required the counties to submit their results within seven days of the election, and the counties did not believe they could meet that deadline.

On the day of the deadline, the Florida Circuit Court ruled that the counties must turn in the results they had gathered, but that they could amend their numbers at a later date. However, the Bush campaign immediately filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Bush requested the Court stay the Florida Supreme Court’s decision for a recount, arguing that the Court had overstepped its boundaries by permitting the manual recounts to go forward.

The U.S. Supreme Court then had to decide whether the Florida Supreme Court had violated Constitutional law by creating what was essentially new election law by permitting the manual recount to go forward.

Per Curiam Decision

In the end, the Court ruled 7-2, in a per curiam decision, that yes, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional. The Court reversed the lower Court, holding that even if the recount was fair in theory, it was how the Court put it into practice that was unfair. Said the Court:

“Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet 3 U. S. C. § 5’s December 12 “safe-harbor” date would be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, the Florida Supreme Court’s judgment ordering manual recounts is reversed. The Clause’s requirements apply to the manner in which the voting franchise is exercised. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, Florida may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.

The recount mechanisms implemented in response to the state court’s decision do not satisfy the minimum requirement for nonarbitrary treatment of voters. The record shows that the standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county from one recount team to another. In addition, the recounts in three counties were not limited to so-called undervotes but extended to all of the ballots.

Furthermore, the actual process by which the votes were to be counted raises further concerns because the court’s order did not specify who would recount the ballots. Where, as here, a court orders a statewide remedy, there must be at least some assurance that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied. The State has not shown that its procedures include the necessary safeguards. Upon due consideration of the difficulties identified to this point, it is obvious that the recount cannot be conducted in compliance with the requirements of equal protection and due process without substantial additional work.

The court below has said that the legislature intended the State’s electors to participate fully in the federal electoral process, as provided in 3 U. S. C. § 5, which requires that any controversy or contest that is designed to lead to a conclusive selection of electors be completed by December 12. That date is here, but there is no recount procedure in place under the state court’s order that comports with minimal constitutional standards.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Appellate Court – A court having jurisdiction to review decisions of a trial-level or other lower court.