WASHINGTON -- Just before 10 a.m. EDT today, the nine justices of the Supreme Court will be summoned by a buzzer to the robing room behind the court bench. No matter how acrimonious the fight over the healthcare decision they are about to announce, tradition calls for them to shake hands with one another.
Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller began that little ceremony in the late 1800s to note that differences of opinion do not preclude the justices’ overall harmony of purpose.
That sense of harmony may be short-lived if the court is badly split on what may be the most significant ruling on an act of Congress in more than half a century.
At precisely 10 a.m. Pamela Talkin, the court marshal, wearing a formal cutaway, will pound a gavel and announce, “The honorable, the chief justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.” As the audience stands, the justices will take their seats in order of seniority, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the center and the most junior justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, at the far ends.
A few minutes later, the justices will announce the answer to one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. At the end of March, after oral arguments on the healthcare case, the justices took a preliminary vote, but with few exceptions in history the outcome of such votes remains known only to the justices, their clerks and a small number of court personnel.President Obama and his White House staff will most likely read the decision online on the court’s website, supremecourt.gov., and listen, just like the general public, to media reports to find out what the court has decided.
-- Timothy M. Phelps, Los Angeles Times