When a panel of three judges issued the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's most controversial decision of the year by upholding a Texas law that regulates—and potentially shuts down—seven abortion clinics on June 9, lawyers naturally wondered who wrote the decision.

All were disappointed as the first page of Whole Woman's Health v. Cole labeled the panel decision as "per curiam"— a designation the appellate court reserves for short opinions on well-settled law that have little precedential value. That designation also means page 56 of Cole would have no signature identifying its author, although the decision names the panel members as Judges Ed Prado, Jennifer Elrod and Catharina Haynes. [See "Strict Regulation of Texas Abortion Clinics Upheld," Texas Lawyer, June 9, 2015.]

"This is an unconventional use of a per curiam device because this is a lengthy, law-making opinion," said Chris Kratovil, an appellate lawyer and member of the Dallas office of Dykema Cox Smith. "My assumption is that the panel released it as a per curiam opinion in an effort to demonstrate the clarity of the law and to minimize controversy.''

Kratovil, who formerly served as a law clerk for Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones, said that while it's an unusual move to put a per curiam label on such a hot opinion, it's an understandable one.

"The use of the per curiam also ensures that no one member of the court is singled out for a social media firestorm,'' Kratovil said.

However, last year, when the Fifth Circuit rejected a stay of lower court rulings that deemed parts of the same Texas law unconstitutional, the decision was signed by Jones—who considered the case along with a panel that also included Elrod and Haynes. [See "Fifth Circuit Finds Abortion Provisions in H.B. 2 Constitutional," Texas Lawyer, April 7, 2014.]

Jones has put her name on controversial abortion decisions before. In 2004, Jones wrote McCorvey v. Hill, an opinion that took both sides of the abortion debate by rejecting an attempt to vacate the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade in a majority opinion, but blasted Roe v. Wade in a concurring opinion that also contained her name. [See "Judge Takes Both Sides in Abortion Ruling," Texas Lawyer, Sept. 27, 2004.]

"The world has changed, and not for the better," Kratovil noted. "Any activist with a Twitter account or a Facebook page now has a platform. I don't blame any member of the court for not wanting to be targeted with threats and hate mail."