At the U.S. Supreme Court, justice may never sleep -- but sometimes the paper work can go astray.
Last week, the discovery of a misplaced memorandum prompted another dispute in Georgetown University's long-running legal battle with homosexual student groups. Because of the missing memo, attorneys for the university asked the high court to reconsider a recent ruling that appeared to clear the way for gay student groups to receive equal treatment.
According to the university's account, the paper work problems started at 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, when Kevin J. Hasson, an attorney for the university, brought a memo to the front lobby of the Supreme Court Building.
A guard stamped the sealed envelope "received" and dated it, the university's attorneys said.
Eighteen days later and a week after the justices had ruled against the university, the still-unopened envelope turned up in a mailroom at Williams & Connolly, the university's law firm. Besides the guard's stamp, the envelope bore U.S. Postal Service stamps saying "returned to sender" and "returned for postage," according to the university's attorneys.
Instead of going to the clerk's office and then to the justices, the envelope had somehow found its way into the court's outgoing mail, the university's attorneys said in a motion filed Wednesday. They contended that, without the lost document, the court was not able to consider Georgetown's full argument.
"It's just one of those unfortunate situations that everyone thinks couldn't happen," a court official said last week.
Although the court clerk's office closes at 5 p.m., the front door of the Supreme Court Building remains open. Under court rules, papers can be filed any time with a guard in the front lobby.
In Wednesday's motion, the university's attorneys asked the court to give further consideration to their request for a stay of a D.C. Court of Appeals decision requiring equal treatment for homosexual student groups. The court had denied the request in a brief order Jan. 11., after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist temporarily blocked the D.C. court order for two weeks.
In a reply filed Thursday, attorneys for the gay student groups argued that Georgetown had no right under court rules to file the memorandum the justices didn't get. "The unfortunate circumstances of its failure to receive the court's attention are irrelevant," they said. The attorneys added that the memo did not present any arguments that Georgetown hadn't made to the court in its original motion.
In the misplaced memo, the university's attorneys contended that the District's antidiscrimination law, which the D.C. appeals court had upheld, violates the university's Catholic religious convictions and they disputed assertions by the student groups' attorneys that the university had failed to make that argument before the appeals court.
Georgetown's attorneys said the misplaced memo was crucial to their argument that the university should not be required to "subsidize . . . a life style" that Catholic teachings condemn.
The court official said the justices considered the new memorandums along with the previously misplaced memo at their regular weekly conference Friday. The court is expected to issue a ruling tomorrow.