Earlier this year, I presented a paper about settlement documentation. One of the other speakers that afternoon, raised an issue about the use and meaning of the word “plurality”. My initial thought was: “Is it just me, or am I hearing this word a lot more?”. Just to check, I decided to research Australian superior court judgments over the last 20 years using Jade.io with the following results:


From To Cases in
Hits on the word
June 1999 June 2009 144,264 355
June 2009 June 2019 286,582 6768

Okay, apparently it’s not just me…. but what does plurality mean?

Interestingly, a quick check of some legal dictionaries didn’t yield any results, so I resorted to Google.

The  University of Melbourne’s “Opinions on High” blog gives the following explanation: “A joint judgment is a judgment that is co-authored by two or more judges. Where a majority of Justices issues a joint judgment, that forms the majority judgment of the Court. A majority may still form among several judgments, which is sometimes referred to as a plurality (although that term is not often used in Australia [really?], and its precise meaning is not settled).” 

I didn’t find that explanation very fulfilling. The next article I looked at was in the Duke Law Journal which explained it (in the context of decisions of the US Supreme Court) in the following terms : “A majority of the Court’s members agree on the result, i.e., which party prevails-plaintiff or defendant, petitioner or respondent-but there is no majority agreement on the reason for that result. The Justices write several concurring opinions, explaining their differing views. If one of these opinions receives more votes than the others, it is designated the plurality opinion.”

So, there you go, the next time you’re asked to use “plurality” in sentence you can go straight to the top of the class.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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