To the end, J.D. Salinger maintained his silence.

When he got the news yesterday that the Supreme Court had upheld his case against Random House -- in effect, putting a large nail in the coffin of a biography Salinger believed intruded on his privacy -- he would not comment.

"We feel very happy," said Andrew Boose, one of the reclusive writer's lawyers at the firm of Kay, Collyer and Boose. Salinger, he said, knew about the decision, but "I have no reaction from him."

The court decided yesterday to let stand a federal appeals court ruling that denied publication of Ian Hamilton's "J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life." The appeals court had blocked publication after reversing a lower court decision.

Salinger, author of the classic novel "Catcher in the Rye," had labeled the biography "an intentional piracy," arguing that it infringed his copyright to certain unpublished letters. The letters are on deposit at various university libraries and the offices of Salinger's British publisher.

Any immediate impact of the ruling on the publishing world was uncertain. Charles Rembar, a specialist in copyright law with the firm of Rembar and Curtis, said it would "create more confusion about copyright than there's been up to now -- and there's been plenty."

The Supreme Court's speed in reaching its decision took the publisher by surprise. "The last papers only went in on the 21st of September," said Random House lawyer Gerald Hollingsworth, who expressed "deep disappointment" over the news.

Random House now appears to have only two choices if it wishes to issue the biography. It could rework the book to remove all possibility of copyright infringement. The publisher already has pruned the manuscript of many direct quotations from Salinger's letters, but even the amended version did not satisfy the appeals court.

Random House could also take the issue back to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan for a jury trial -- a path the publisher previously has said it would take. However, Salinger has made clear he would sue Random House for damages if the case went to trial. Said lawyer Boose: "We don't really feel there're any issues left to be tried."

Of course, Random House could drop the book, for which it paid Hamilton $100,000 and which has cost at least that much in lawyers' fees. "That possibility has not crossed anyone's mind on this side of the controversy," said Hollingsworth, who added they were reviewing the other options. Jason Epstein, Hamilton's editor, did not return a call for comment yesterday. Hamilton himself could not be reached.

Several groups had filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Random House, including the Association of American Publishers. Jon Baumgarten, copyright counsel to the AAP, said yesterday that "the specific, concrete effects {of the decision} will take time to determine."

Publishing observers have continually expressed surprise that Salinger has been so successful in court. His lawyer, however, said that "the people who thought we were going to lose were those who haven't read the book and the letters. If they had seen the extent of the infringement, they would have seen we were going to win."

Salinger, who has given only one full interview in three decades, replied to Hamilton's initial request for an interview with a letter that said he had "borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime." With his subject and most of his subject's friends closed to him, Hamilton was forced to rely on the letters.

Publishing lawyer Rembar said that "an interesting thing about this case is that the plaintiff's apparent motivation was not what he was suing for. He obviously is interested in what he regards as his privacy, but the situation does not rise to the level in privacy terms of something that can make a good lawsuit.

"So he shifts over into the copyright area, where really he's not being done any harm" if the biography were published. Salinger, Rembar noted, would presumably not lose any sales because of the biography -- a usual reason for claiming copyright infringement.

The squelching of the biography has turned the original galley -- of which about 70 were made for reviewers -- into one of the most valuable new books of the decade. Last spring, a rare book dealer listed a copy in his catalogue for $750.