There has got to be a better way to announce Supreme Court decisions

There’s something unseemly about waiting on pins and needles to see if maybe today the Supreme Court will “let my people go,” or not.

Not only does the notion of submitting my humanity to a court to determine its legitimacy sting, but the entire circus surrounding the release of Supreme Court decisions, and its associated Kremlinology, isn’t befitting the gravity of the court or the matters before it.

For anyone unaware, this time of year, those of us interested in Supreme Court rulings – especially gays concerned about Prop 8 and DOMA (aka gay marriage , rush every Monday and Thursday at 10am Eastern time to the Supreme Court Web site, and/or rush to the Supreme Court in person, and wait for a man to bring out a number of boxes while the justices on the bench do, or don’t, read their written opinions either pro or con the majority decision in the case.

My civil rights are not a toy. (Cat with yarn via Shutterstock)

My civil rights are not a toy. (Cat with yarn via Shutterstock)

Then we wait on edge for the next opinion to be announced, and the next, until finally it’s over – they usually only announce 4 or so – and if the decision in our case wasn’t announced, we pack our bags, and our hopes and our fears, until the next day when maybe, or maybe not, the Supreme Court will rule us five-fifths a man, or perhaps something less.

Unlike the religious right and their Republican overlords (or vice versa), I can handle the notion of the court deciding such things. It’s the way it works in our democracy – courts decide constitutional matters.

What I can’t handle is the manner in which the cases are announced, almost as if the court is playing a game with us. Teasing us. Taunting us. Edging us along like some cat toying with its prey, undecided if it’s going to kill it, free it, or just get bored all together and walk away, looking for the next potential ball of yarn.

There has got to be a better way.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • HelenRainier

    John, please don’t compare the regal feline to our “august” USSC justices. That is an injustice to an elegant animal that has been worshipped for centuries dating back to ancient Egypt.

  • dcinsider

    Agreed.

  • 2patricius2

    That sounds good.

  • Mark_in_MN

    One can not so neatly divide “policy issues” from any other category. Policy is always implicated when the law needs to be interpreted. And the marriage cases, the Voter Rights Act case, etc. are very much about the place where policy and important constitutional matters intersect. Policy needs to be able to live up to those constitutional requirements and limits and bow to the rights of citizens. A matter being a “policy issue” shouldn’t get in the way of protecting and maintaining basic rights. Making decisions about those intersections and interactions between law, policy, rights, and the constitution is where the Supreme Court lives, and where it needs (and is needed) to be. It is very much the way a constitutional and democratic republic, based on the rights of all and the rule of law instead of the rule of the mob, is supposed to operate.

  • Mark_in_MN

    I would take those words as axiomatic.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Which is one of the reasons that the 4+ years it’s taken the Prop 8 case and the 2.5+ years the Windsor case has taken is just too long a process before decisions come down.

    Although, it’s possible that the time it’s taken may have allowed things to ripen, even if it is taking far too long, especially for bi-national couples. We will see soon, I hope.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Such independence should also mean that they become one of the most transparent, not most opaque, institutions in government. Announcing what opinions will be released the day or several days in advance would be one small step in that needed direction. For another, if the Justices of the Supreme Court can’t see to opening their courtroom to television cameras (with one or another C-SPAN channel or the like broadcasting oral arguments, opinions, orders, etc. live) then Congress should force their hand as it has power to legislate concerning the courts as it has the power to legislate regarding all powers vested in the government. For that matter, I’d like to see their conferences be public and open rather than the super-secret meeting it is now. But I’ll settle for other reforms first.

  • Mark_in_MN

    One might even wonder why they don’t release the decision in the case in a one page order when they have determined what that decision is shortly after oral arguments and then release the opinions at a later date when they are completed.

  • Mark_in_MN

    For my own part, I think the Supreme Court works too slowly and needs to reform its procedures and modernize. One part of that should be faster opinions. They should set a deadline for themselves. I’d say 8 weeks after oral arguments should be sufficient, but they should set a goal for somewhere between 4-8 weeks. In doing so, they should also force themselves to write shorter and more succinct opinions without tangents or long historical rehearsals and the listing of seemingly every possibly relevant precedent. The best writing is short and to the point, that should be true for legal writing too. If they can take their initial poll of justices shortly after hearing the case, they must be able to articulate why they would vote for a certain outcome at that time. Put that in writing as simply and directly as possible in as few pages as possible. That will also push for clear thinking and distilling each case to its essential elements.

    And, yes, they should be able to schedule when a ruling on a particular case will come out, even the more difficult cases, even if it is a list issued on Wednesday or Thursday what decisions they will release the next Monday. And those decisions could simply be released on the SCOTUS website, rather than sticking to releasing boxes of physically printed documents at the SCOTUS building first.

    And I’d get rid of the whole end of term thing, because I’d get rid of the whole term thing. They shouldn’t be active for only 9 months of the year, with arguments being heard during only 7 months a year. This is a schedule designed for a different era in which the courts experienced a different sort of demand and many processes were inherently slower (being pre-computer/pre-electroncis and all). The court should be taking many more cases (possibly multiples of what they do now not just taking a handful more) and hear arguments every month, and the whole court process from filing to final disposition at the Supreme Court (if it goes that far) should take much less time. The Prop 8 case has been active in the courts for more than 4 years now. I don’t know why that should be seen as acceptable, much less those cases which take even longer than that.

  • MerryMarjie

    But as we see with Prop 8, there are some things that should not be subjected to the voting process. Humans suffer in the end and Human Rights go out the window.

  • MerryMarjie

    Yeah, those group pictures with the heavy black robes do seem a little outdated. I say they should either wear the white wigs that go with them or discontinue the uniforms.

  • vergil arma

    Why are folks expecting representatives of the very system that oppresses us to give us justice? Does anyone remember the outcome of the Dan White trial?

  • Butch1

    “There has got to be a better way.”
    ===============================
    Not with this bunch of “sadists for life.”

  • Mrsexamme1965

    мy coυѕιɴ ιѕ мαĸιɴɢ $51/нoυr oɴlιɴe. υɴeмployed ғor α coυple oғ yeαrѕ αɴd prevιoυѕ yeαr ѕнe ɢoт α $1З619cнecĸ wιтн oɴlιɴe joв ғor α coυple oғ dαyѕ. ѕee мore αт…­ ­ViewMore——————————————&#46qr&#46net/kkEj

    They’ve had months to do this —
    and you’re suggesting that like some lazy sophomore, they’re waiting
    until the night before the deadline to work on the paper. Pffft.

  • HappyToWaitForSCOTUS

    I don’t think that just because this issue has been lingering since 2004 it is any more or less important than other decisions being handed down by SCOTUS. Get over yourself! We don’t know if the decision is done yet, and if it’s not I would prefer it not be hurried so that it calms a few nerves down in the process.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I do that a lot lately—–I need more Krispies! :-)

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    That true—-never mind.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Oh, that is different. Krispy Kreme straight from the oven!

  • Sam_Handwich

    leave it to the onion…

    Impatient Nation Demands Supreme Court Just Get To The Gay Stuff

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/impatient-nation-demands-supreme-court-just-get-to,32938/

  • nicho

    Donuts before the news — liquor after.

  • nicho

    Actually, that’s what SCOTUS is supposed to be doing. However, the court has morphed into a bunch of corporate shills. So, while I don’t mind having my rights decided by the Supreme Court, I do mind have them decided by corporate lobbyists.

  • nicho

    Must be the sugar rush from the donuts.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuAyvo9JCmg Ritorna Vincitor

    Oh, I’m so sorry, but Krispy Kreme won’t let you bring in fancy foreign food. Daly City fog belt.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuAyvo9JCmg Ritorna Vincitor

    That’s a good idea. Go out for doughnuts before the news. I think I’ll
    try that! And then go out for doughnuts again after the news too!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuAyvo9JCmg Ritorna Vincitor

    Oops. I did it again!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuAyvo9JCmg Ritorna Vincitor

    Oops. I replied to the wrong post. Sowwy.

  • nicho

    That wouldn’t bother me as much if I didn’t know they have boiling oil on the balcony.

  • nicho

    Any time you want to put something of this importance to the voters, remember that 59,000,000 Americans voted for Sarah Palin.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    or any accountability

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    The classic historical paradox: The mob or tyranny. We are at a stage of late capitalist degeneration where several Supreme Court justices are blatantly corrupt, ironically, above the law and arrogantly flaunt the indifference to justice or public opinion.

  • nicho

    Oh, I go out before 7 a.m. PT and avoid the news, so I can take my walk and do my stretching exercises in some kind of tranquility. I don’t want to hear the news until there has been some opportunity for people to analyze it at least a little. Saves so much aggravation. Go for donuts. Hear the news later.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Make that a heaping plate of croissants, sweet butter and Scottish Marmalade and we’ll stand watch with you! North SF

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuAyvo9JCmg Ritorna Vincitor

    The most terrible thing about getting up early each day here on the left coast to see if SCOTUS has issued a decision about DOMA and Prop 8 is that there is not enough time to run out for doughnuts before the rulings are announced. And when it turns out that they once again didn’t issue those rulings, you really, really could use some!

  • Randy

    That would require an amendment to the Constitution. If it passed, are you sure you really want a democratic vote? Remember — in the past 50 years, most presidents have actually been Republicans.

  • Randy

    Yes, and it’s frustrating that our rights also get voted on by the public. Those are the only two ways I know of to obtain rights. Which one do you think should be the way?

    Any other suggestions on how to get our rights?

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Yes, very uplifting, hopey and changey and all. But the view to justice with a boot on my neck is not flowered with sweet euphemisms.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Thank you. I don’t know how we could pass a day without your side troll reflections.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Even so I would agree with using POTUS also.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Yep, wait and wait to see all that naked, ugly bloated fat in the most unflattering light possible. The Supreme Court should be radically altered,composed of some democratically elected members, have 10 year term limits and be subject to censure and reversal by a majority of states.

  • Indigo

    One of the side effects of an 18th century constitution is 18th century pageantry. Even the British monarchy has lightened up a little, but not SCOTUS.

  • JD234

    Incidentally, it’s not just the religious right who objects to the Supreme Court’s power. Since almost every major policy issue can be framed in constitutional terms, we’ve essentially given a veto over almost every law and piece of legislation to an unelected set of appointees, with the only barrier being that they have to put their policy objections in constitutional language. When national-level policy is shaped by a tiny oligarchy, you’re going to get Kremlinology — there’s no way to separate the two. The democratic alternative is open debate and voting — ie, what proper legislatures do. The Supreme Court is just a miniature, secretive legislature by another name. (And, before I’m pilloried here, I’m saying this as a leftwing critic who is fervently wishing for DOMA to be struck down. One may like the SC’s effects and prefer it exist than not, while at the same time being aware of how hugely undemocratic its powers are.)

  • northierthanthou.com

    Only too apt. I wish this didn’t sound like an accurate take on the subject.

  • northierthanthou.com

    This week is a cliff-hanger, isn’t it?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Your point is taken, but I still remember MLK’s immortal words: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

  • basenjilover

    Fixed!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Even more to the point, John — they already knew what the vote was, likely weeks ago when it came time to assign who was going to write the majority opinion and who would write the dissent. They may have even known for months, from their post-oral arguments conference meetings.

  • bbock

    SCOTUS, not POTUS. POTUS is President of the United States.

  • bbock

    Nobody does a Strip Tease better than the SCOTUS.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    To me it all feels like they are waiting for a crowd of peasants to gather in the courtyard, and we all get to wait for them to appear on the balcony overhead to read what random declaration they have decided to lord over us with this day. I’ve always had this distinct impression that the procedures of the Court, and the pageantry of it all, are more important to them than the people, or the decisions they’re making for them. Then again, I have the same feelings about the Senate.

  • JoJoTheModern

    This must be at least a bit similar to the way people felt in in past decades when civil rights were placed before the courts and awaited decisions. Later they could talk about how historic and awesome it all was, but at the time it just felt like raw nervousness.

  • Sam_Handwich

    the deadline is (nearly always) the end of the current term, which goes through june

  • Annski1

    Maybe when you have a job for life you don’t have deadlines

  • basenjilover

    SICK and TIRED of waiting and BEING SHOVED ASIDE. We waited since 2004 when Homophobes and Bigots of California invalided our marriage license after waiting all day and what was happiest day of our lives. Now POTUS is taunting us. DAMMIT!

  • unclemike

    If it didn’t happen with Citizens united, it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

  • pogden297

    “Unlike the religious right and their Republican overlords
    (or vice versa), I can handle the notion of the court deciding such
    things.It’s the way it works in our democracy – courts decide constitutional matters.”

    And the Court decide policy issues that they then dress up as being mandated by the Constitution. That’s not the way a democratic republic is supposed to operate.

  • Badgerite

    There, there!

  • Sam_Handwich

    And i’ll just add that it seems like the most efficient method for releasing opinions….one at a time.

  • Ninong

    They have added tomorrow (Tuesday) as another hand-down day, so what do you think the chances are that one or both of the “gay marriage” cases will be announced tomorrow? It’s just my hunch that both Perry and Windsor will be announced Thursday.

  • Sam_Handwich

    tradition? frankly, i relish the suspense … it’s generally no longer than an hour. i’m not sure what practical purpose it would serve to announce at 10:01 that there’s a ruling in Prop 8 coming, but have no idea what that ruling actually is

  • Sam_Handwich

    This comment appeared this morning at joe.my.god, in response to someone bemoaning the long wait on these cases. I found it very moving and helpful… and i hope others may, too

    Statler N. Waldorf
    Look at it this way. There’s people who waited their whole lives and never made it to this day.

    We are so lucky, you and I. We didn’t succumb to the virus. We haven’t been lynched the way Matt Sheppard was. Though they have fired us and evicted us, turned us away from the altar and the church, though our parents hate us, and the politicians spit bile in our faces, we are alive, we are here, and we are witnessing this moment.

    In a day or two, we may at long last be equals before the law. Maybe we’ll never be fully accepted into society, but at least we will live to see a day when our love is recognized. We will live to see a day when those who murder us can’t get away with a panic defense. We will live to see a day when our military service will be treated with honor and respect. we will live to see a day when we can no longer be fired for the equality stickers on the bumpers of our cars.

    And that day is coming real soon. We’re alive, and we’re going to see that day with our own eyes

    http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2013/06/matt-baume-marriage-news-watch_24.html#disqus_thread

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    They clearly know before 9:59am which opinions they’ll be releasing one minute later. Why not at the very least announce what’s coming.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Then why don’t they announce in advance which decisions are being released that day?

  • http://funnyoddthing.blogspot.com frizbeesf

    It’s hard not to think they are just attention seeking drama queens on the court, where SCOTUS is going to have their moment in the spotlight no matter what. And I actually can understand that if it is the case, After all the President and Congress seem to get all the limelight, I really can’t blame the Justices if they use this process as a not so subtle reminder that there IS a third branch of government., and by god attention WILL be paid… That being said, it still seems needlessly overdrawn and even somewhat childish how they do it.

    A small reality check for anybody who is annoyed that there wont be any “Death to DOMA” drink specials at the Big Apple Ranch, Sidetracks, Badlands or the Abbey tonight, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of bi-national same sex couples living oversees in DOMA Exile, for whom this decision literally will determine of we can ever return home the United States, or those living in the U.S. who are facing the very real prospect of having to leave the country just to be with their spouse.

    For folks like us, this whole waiting game just seems cruel….

  • rerutled

    It is appropriate that “judical indpendence” should be clothed in the appearance of a lack of immediate accountability.

  • Sam_Handwich

    The court issues rulings when all the opinions are ready for release. As most know, there could be a number of opinions written on any case … the majority, the dissent(s), concurrences, other special opinions, such as those which join the majority or a dissent, but only in part. It takes time for each justice to get their legal reasoning in order.

    There’s no reason to presume that the court is either trying to create drama or annoy you personally.

  • Bookbinder

    It is pompous and cavalier in the extreme, more befitting a 17th century monarchy than an alleged democracy in the 21st,

  • Don

    Exactly. This waiting is wrecking havoc on my mental health. Any advance notice would be very beneficial.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    What I’m talking about is the cute game where we all wait to see if one more opinion is coming or not. 1)The moment they know which opinions they’re going to announce that day, they should announce which opinions they’re announcing at the VERY LEAST. Because I doubt they’re flipping a coin at 9:59am trying to figure out which ones to announce. If they know the day before, at least let us know the day before. But this cute game of waiting to see if maybe, maybe, maybe there’s one more this day that’s coming… is obscene. 2) As soon as they have the opinions done, publish them online. Why wait until Monday or Thursday? 3) Call me self-important and I’ll call you naive :) Let’s leave the ad hominem’s out of this :)

    And I absolutely think this is about teasing and holding some of the most important decisions for last. Absolutely.

  • nicho

    They’ve had months to do this — and you’re suggesting that like some lazy sophomore, they’re waiting until the night before the deadline to work on the paper. Pffft.

  • matt227

    Some state courts do announce the dates for specific decisions.

  • nicho

    They’re just jerking us around. If you don’t believe that, you’re beyond naive. Fat Tony and Long Dong Thomas are having a great time laughing at us.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    I see your point, however, it’s frustrating enough that our rights are subject to a SCOTUS decision in the first place.

  • Mike in Iowa

    What are you possibly talking about? Are they supposed to release the opinions before they are done? Do you want them to get rid of the historical deadline requiring all opinions be released by end of the terms in which they are argued so, as is true with the lower federal appellate courts, we don’t remotely have any guarantee they will be released by end of June, as compared to later this year or next? Seriously, do you not get that the opinions that come down last are generally those on which one or more justices have had a hard time making up their mind or which include difficult legal issues where the analysis are still getting tweaked and argued about up until time of release? You aren’t really self important enough that you really think this is about teasing those waiting for the decisions, do you?

  • caphillprof

    One of these days the Supreme Court will announce a decision and get laughed out of the country. That day is closer and closer to reality.

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    So many big egos out there in politics and business. They think they can do anything they want and not have to suffer any consequences and most often they don’t. The people in this country are lazy, fat and complacent – which breeds an air of approval. Keep the masses fat and happy and you can do anything you want with them.

  • Randy

    I agree. There is no reason they can’t announce in advance the day they will release the opinion. At a minimum, that seems reasonable.

    But our side is as much to blame. In the past week alone, we have been treated to innumberable videos and blogs about all the various ways the court could rule, and the impact of each one of them. This is ridiculous and a total waste of time. We will shortly found out the real actual ruling, and then we can parse it and attempt to determine its import and impact. Any speculation beforehand is nothing more than mental masturbation, and stokes fears unnecessarily.

    I know everyone wants airtime and to appear relevant. But come on people — we already went through all this after the hearings, and to go through it all over again is just overkill. Sit tight, wait it out and in the meantime just go about your business. Really, a week or two isn’t going to change much.

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