On a memorable morning at the Supreme Court, the justices said farewell to Justice John Paul Stevens on his final day before retiring, noted the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's husband Martin, and issued landmark opinions expanding Second Amendment rights, disallowing the Bilski business methods patent, and striking down a part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The Court also denied review in seven petitions filed by tobacco companies and the U.S. government challenging different parts of a lower court ruling holding tobacco companies liable under federal racketeering laws for decades of deception about the dangers of cigarettes.
Ginsburg, whose husband died Sunday, was on the bench as usual as Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. opened the session by saying he had the "very sad duty" of reporting that Martin Ginsburg, a tax law expert and teacher, had died. Roberts spoke of Ginsburg's "sharp wit and engaging charm," and said Martin Ginsburg had become friends with all the justices.
Then it was on to the lengthy announcement of the opinions -- the three mentioned above as well as a fourth, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (pdf), in which the Court upheld a state university law school's anti-discrimination policy that requires recognized student groups to allow "all comers" to join. Justice Ginsburg read from her opinion.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. read at length from his 45-page opinion in McDonald v. Chicago (pdf), which ruled that the individual right to bear arms articulated two years ago in D.C. v. Heller applies fully to state and local regulations -- though he added the right is "not unlimited. Justice Stephen Breyer read from his dissent, as he did with a dissent in Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (pdf).
Justice Anthony Kennedy read from Bilski v. Kappos (pdf), in which the Court majority struck down the specific patent at issue, but did not rule out patent eligibility for other kinds of business methods. Stevens read from his concurrence, criticizing the Court ruling which he said will "cause mischief" by leaving open the possibility of patentability for intangible methods and processes.
The reading of summaries of all four opinion took more than an hour, making for an unusually long session of the Court. Then came announcement by Roberts that Frank Wagner, the Court's longtime reporter of decisions, was retiring.
Finally, it was time for Roberts to read the Court's farewell letter to Stevens, who retires tomorrow after 35 years as a justice. Stevens' departure "saddens each of us," Roberts said, also mentioned Stevens' "resolute commitment to justice." Roberts offered Stevens "time for rebuttal," and Stevens read from his own letter thanking his colleagues for "warm and enduring friendships" they had shared. Stevens' voice seemed to crack, but by the end of the statement he was smiling.
In the audience, several lawyers and some journalists sported bow ties as a tribute to Stevens' trademark neckwear. Some of his former law clerks were also in the Court. A further tribute to Stevens is expected later today, when the current law clerks will also produce their annual skits to spoof and celebrate their year at the Court.
Check back here and at nlj.com later today for more on the Supreme Court's action.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.