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The Supreme Court will be slightly less visible this month as it begins its new term. With little fanfare, the Court announced on Tuesday that it was canceling its public session on Oct. 17, the third Monday of its October cycle of sittings. “The Supreme Court will no longer sit for a non-argument day in its October session,” the Court press release stated, without offering a reason. The third-Monday session has always been somewhat superfluous. For each of its seven argument cycles during the term, the Court typically hears arguments Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week, sits the same three days the second week for argument, and then comes back to the bench on the third Monday – not for arguments, but to announce orders and opinions and to swear in new members of the Supreme Court bar. Later in the term, the third-Monday session is useful for announcing opinions that weren’t quite ready to be announced on the previous argument days. The Court’s press release Tuesday stated that third-Monday sittings will continue to be held from November through April. But in October, the Court will have just heard its first arguments the two weeks before, making it far too early to be announcing decisions in those cases on the third Monday. The Court usually issues its first opinions of the term in early- or mid-November, though in the 2009-10 term it did not announce its first decision until Dec. 8. Without any decisions to announce, the session on the third Monday in October is a quickie, with a one-sentence announcement from the chief justice stating that orders have been released followed by bar admissions. Under the new plan, the orders will be posted online at 10 a.m. that day, and bar admissions can be redistributed to other days when the Court is on the bench. So the cancellation of the Oct. 17 sitting may simply be an acknowledgment that the Court doesn’t have much to say in October outside of its questioning of advocates during oral argument. And it fits in with Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.’s stated desire to get his colleagues and clerks working on opinions early in the term. At the circuit conference of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in June, Roberts acknowledged that he likes his clerks to work on the Columbus Day federal holiday in October (on the 10th this year) for that reason. The third-Monday session in October, as brief as it usually is, may have seemed to Court like an inefficient and unnecessary distraction from the task of writing opinions. Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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