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WASHINGTON-Within days of the end of the 2005-06 U.S. Supreme Court term and even before the end, scholars, litigators and others offered identical assessments clothed in varying clich�s. The first term of the new Roberts Court was: marking time, treading water, in a calm before the storm, and in a pause. The final day seemed to belie such staid labels. A 5-3 high court, without the new chief justice, appeared to be much like the old Rehnquist Court. It asserted its jurisdiction- judicial confidence being a hallmark of the Rehnquist Court-to decide a challenge to the Bush administration’s military tribunals and then, in a stinging rebuke, found that the tribunals violated military and international laws. The decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeldwas the stand-out ruling of the term: the most important executive power decision ever, according to former acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger of O’Melveny & Myers. In a normal year, Hamdanalone would have been sufficient to make the term historical, but, of course, it was not a normal year. On most final days of the term, some of the justices emerge from behind their red velvet curtain with smiles and nods to those in the courtroom. There is almost a palpable sense of relief that a term has ended. But there were no smiles on June 29, and perhaps it was not entirely due to the enormity of the decision about to be announced. This court looked tired, and with good reason. They buried a chief with whom many of them had worked for decades. They bade farewell to another highly respected colleague, a key vote in their most difficult cases and a behind-the-scenes force among them. They welcomed two new justices-one in the middle of the term-onto a bench that had seen no change in 11 years. And then there was Hamdan. The term had shaped early as a potential legal blockbuster with cases involving abortions for minors, assisted suicide, religious expression, voting rights, wetlands regulation and the death penalty. But in the end, it was really only Hamdanthat broke major ground. Many of the key cases were disposed of narrowly or in splintered rulings. Whether that was the result of a court treading water or the new chief justice’s view that deciding less is the path to consensus remains to be seen.
SUPREME COURT REVIEW
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