UPDATE 12:44 p.m. The Court has announced that it expects to issue one or more opinions in argued cases on Thursday. As usual, it did not announce which case or cases will be decided.
The Supreme Court will hold a special public session on Thursday at 10 a.m., the Court announced at the close of this morning’s oral arguments. Although no purpose for the sitting was specified, no arguments are scheduled, so it almost certainly will be to release opinions — perhaps the long-awaited ruling on campaign finance regulation. Such sessions are highly unusual, but so is the campaign finance case, involving a major constitutional controversy.
If the Court is planning to issue the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (08-205) on Thursday, rather than waiting, say, until Monday, one possible reason is that one of the Justices who will be discussing an opinion from the bench plans to be absent on Monday. While it might look like a gesture to satisfy Congress’s mandate that cases testing the constitutionality of campaign finance laws are to be given expedited treatment, the case already has been pending for a considerable period of time, so that a few more days before its release would not count for much.
The case has been pending at the Court since its filing on August 14, 2008, as a direct appeal from a three-judge U.S. District Court in Washington. The Court noted on November 14, 2008, that it would accept jurisdiction — that is, it granted review of the merits. It held an argument on the case on March 24 last year. Then, on June 29, it ordered the case re-argued, and told the lawyers involved to return to discuss whether the Court should overrule two of its prior rulings — in 1990 and 2003 — upholding federal limits on political campaign activities by corporations (and labor unions). The case was re-argued in a special, during-summer-recess session on September 9. The Justices have been pondering it since then.
The 2002 federal law that includes the restrictions at issue in the case — the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 — provides that both the three-judge District Court that initially hears a constitutional challenge to any part of the Act and the Supreme Court hearing any appeal have a “duty…to advance on the docket and to expedite to the greatest possible extent the disposition of the action and appeal.” Congress, however, cannot dictate what “expedite” means, since the Court proceeds in its own fashion, even while giving the case at least some priority treatment. The late summer oral argument was one such gesture.
It is widely expected that, when Citizens United is decided, the Court will issue a bulky ruling, in terms of the page totals, with perhaps multiple opinions. The actual public session Thursday morning — likely to attract a large audience, including lawyers involved in the case and members of Congress — will follow a customary pattern. The Justices will take the bench promptly at 10 a.m., and, with nothing else on their schedule for the session, will begin almost immediately announcing a ruling.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., will announce the docket number and title of the case being decided, and whether he or another Justice will be announcing the outcome. The primary author will recite from the bench, perhaps reading from a prepared statement, or speaking extemporaneously. If there are dissents, one or more Justices may choose to announce their views orally. The oral statements will not necessarily track what is actually said in the written opinions, but will certainly give the sense, and perhaps the flavor, of the opinions. Some bench statements may be released later in the morning, but they are not a formal part of the ruling.
Once the recitations are completed, the Court will then recess until its next public session, this coming Monday.