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The Supreme Court Rumor Mill: Frenzied, and Wrong The Supreme Court Rumor Mill: Frenzied, and Wrong

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Health Care / HEALTH CARE

The Supreme Court Rumor Mill: Frenzied, and Wrong

People file out of the Supreme Court after the morning session on the Affordable Care Act on March 28, 2012, the last day of hearing arguments.(Chet Susslin)

May 24, 2012

Rumors were flying around the Capitol this week that the Supreme Court would decide the health care cases on Thursday. They were wrong.

Hill staffers, Health and Human Services Department employees, and think-tankers were all abuzz on Wednesday with speculation that the Supreme Court of the United States might issue its opinion on the Affordable Care Act case on Thursday, a month sooner than most court-watchers predict.

If the rumors had been correct, they would have been surprising for two reasons: 1) It would have been an unusually accelerated timeframe for the Court to issue such an opinion, and 2) nothing ever leaks from the Supreme Court.

 

“So many people are focused on this who don’t have any experience with the Court and so things that are wildly implausible and make no sense get treated as if they were: ‘Oh, that passes the could-be-true test,’ ” said Tom Goldstein, who argues frequently before the Court and publishes Scotusblog, a website that tracks Court news.

Goldstein says he anticipates many innaccurate rumors to circulate before the health reform case comes down. “It would be shocking. It’s totally implausible that the case would be ready to go.”

The health care case is not just closely watched but also quite complex. The justices will need to address four questions in writing, and there are likely to be several dissenting opinions. The justices typically take a few months to work through the opinions, and Goldstein said that’s a process that’s difficult to speed up. The conventional wisdom is that the Court will issue its opinion on the last day of the term, in late June.

And a leak about a to-be-decided case at the Court is virtually unprecedented. According to the Associated Press, the last time the Court leaked was 30 years ago. That leak was about the timing of a particular decision—there have been no recorded modern examples of the contents of a major decision slipping out early.

The only people in a position to know how the Court has ruled or when it will issue opinions are the current justices, who have never leaked, their law clerks, whose careers would be ruined if they did, and a few veteran Court staffers, who have always stayed quiet.

Still, it was tough for people who cared about the case to ignore the rumors entirely, despite their implausibility. And the Court’s press office, which does not comment on cases, was unable to deny it. Many government staffers and reporters were on edge. A survey at Scotusblog’s live blog announcing Thursday’s decisions showed that more than a third of people watching were there only because they thought the health care case would land.

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