No decisions in high court's horn of plenty

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2009 10:22 AM

For the first time under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court failed to issue opinions before Thanksgiving in any of the cases that were argued in recent months.

The court operates under no deadlines, but usually produces an opinion or two by the middle of November, especially if Roberts or the equally speedy Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is writing for a unanimous court.

The justices heard arguments a month earlier than usual in an important campaign finance case that could affect spending by corporations and labor unions in next year's election campaigns.

One reason for the early argument, many court watchers believed, was to enable an early resolution of the case. It hasn't happened yet.

With new Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the mix, it also is possible that the justices are moving a bit more slowly while they allow their new colleague to get her bearings. On the other hand, Sotomayor has proved to be an adept and eager questioner during arguments.

The court returns to work Monday and could issue opinions in the coming week.


Of course, it's not as though Roberts isn't writing at all. He recently added a new duty to his eclectic mix of responsibilities.

At the Treasury Department's request, Roberts is writing a half-dozen short essays about the preamble to the Constitution in conjunction with a series of platinum coins being issued by the U.S. Mint.

The first installment of both the essay and the coin focus on the phrase "to form a more perfect union," the first of six key needs given for writing the Constitution.

Jettisoning legalese in favor of words that can be grasped by a wide audience, Roberts explains that the founders' desire for a "more perfect union" rests not on a common heritage, but "more fundamentally on a unity of common beliefs that Americans of all backgrounds throughout history have embraced."

The coin features Lady Liberty on one side and four faces representing American diversity on the other.

Roberts already is Chief Justice of the United States, Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, the head of the federal judiciary and a trustee at the National Gallery of Art.


Justice Samuel Alito likes to play to the crowd. Last year, when speaking to a conservative group, he needled Vice President Joe Biden on a 20-year-old instance of plagiarism in a campaign speech.

Addressing the Federalist Society recently, Alito took a couple of shots at leading liberal scholars, Laurence Tribe and Cass Sunstein, who also are closely associated with President Barack Obama.

Alito said he has not yet read Sunstein's "A Constitution of Many Minds: Why the Founding Document Doesn't Mean What It Meant Before" and Tribe's "The Invisible Constitution."

With a workload too heavy to allow much outside reading, Alito said to an appreciative crowd, "I'm going to have to stick to interpreting and applying the provisions of the Constitution that are visible to the naked eye."

He added, "And I'm going to have to proceed on the assumption that these provisions have not taken on an entirely new meaning."


Alito also rose to Sotomayor's defense _ and, indeed, to all high court nominees whose Senate confirmation hearings are marked by anodyne statements.

If he had friends like Sotomayor's, Alito said, he wouldn't need enemies.

He was referring to criticism leveled at Sotomayor by liberals who hoped she would make a vigorous defense of how judges could stick up for the little guy without compromising judicial impartiality.

But when asked about her judicial philosophy, Sotomayor said it was "fidelity to the law."

"There's not a word in that statement that should have been controversial," Alito said.

Sotomayor's statement, though, caused some consternation in liberal legal circles, Alito said. He said that one liberal law professor wrote that if Sotomayor truly believed that, "she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified."

"These are the words of one of her supporters," Alito said. "I had a lot of opponents, but I'm glad I never had any supporters like that."


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