Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently noted that she sometimes refrained from dissenting in the cases she regarded as less important like tax disputes and saved her dissents for the big ones like those on gender equality. Unlike some of her other obviously injudicious remarks, her opinion on this matter may be widely shared among judges. When I asked a friend who had become a federal appellate judge what most surprised him, he said it was norm among his colleagues to suppress written dissent in all but important cases. He was troubled by the practice but felt pressure to conform.
My friend is right to feel uneasy. It is a bad practice. First, it smacks of judicial hubris. It is often difficult to be sure how important a decision will be in the long run.. The fabric of the law is complex. For instance, the development of minor exceptions to a doctrine can eventually lead to pressure for its overthrow. Even cases that are minor to Supreme Court justices can have large ripple effects.