Yes. We are waiting. All of us, the cable TV analysts with their cocky command of justices’ raised eyebrows, the sharpeners of political spears on left and right, the giant insurers and think-tank industrialists, all must fidget and wait.
But let’s declare the severability of those interests to focus on one individual for whom the last few days of June in Washington hold a very personal agony: Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.
He stood in March before the nine justices to make the government’s arguments defending the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, then endured swift and harsh criticism of his delivery. Monday, he will show up in court, rise when the justices enter, sit back down and wait some more. Maybe they will hand down a decision on health care Monday. Maybe Wednesday or Thursday.
There are a handful of cases pending, and Verrilli, 54, has three of them. He waits, also, for decisions in a landmark Arizona immigration case and a First Amendment case involving lying about military honors.
“There is nothing you can do,” says former solicitor general Ted Olson, who has sat in this chair. “You have to be patient.” It is miserable.
Plus, you suffer in full view of the public.
That is especially difficult, says Walter Dellinger, who was acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton. Dellinger defended Clinton and tried to ward off a sexual harassment claim from former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones by arguing that a sitting president should be shielded from lawsuits for acts prior to taking office.
Court tradition mandates that the solicitor general, the federal government’s lawyer in the Supreme Court, sit at the counsel table right in front of the black-robed ones as the decisions are announced.
“I recall listening to the justices unaminously reject every argument I had made in Clinton v. Jones ,” Dellinger says, “while I sat there with everyone in the courtroom watching.”
The heart palpitations start about five minutes before 10 a.m., when the justices begin reading their opinions, “and the passage of time makes you increasingly nervous,” says Paul Smith, a former law partner of Verrilli, who successfully challenged a Texas law that criminalized gay sex and a California law that banned violent video games. “The court takes its sweet time to decide, and as you go through announcement after announcement, you say, ‘This is going to be harder than I thought.’ ”
Sometimes, justice is swift.
Two examples of the you-just-never-know phenomenon: As the nation waited to learn who it had elected president in 2000, the court took up Bush v. Gore on Dec. 11, then rendered a verdict . . .