THE SUPREME COURT adjourned for the summer Monday in a state of disarray. Its nine-month-long term had not been marked by either unusually complex or controversial issues. But the divergence of the views of the justices on the law and on the role of the court itself has rarely been so sharp. Of the 24 separate opinions produced in seven cases on that final day, only one was signed by more than a bare majority.
On school desegregation, where the court once stood firmly united, the justices split 7 to 2 and 5 to 4 on important cases from Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. The sharp language of the disenters -- in particular, that of Justice William H. Rehnquist -- will most likely rekindle the drive for a constitutional amendment on school busing. Mr. Rehnquist accused his colleagues of either washing their hands ["like Pilate] of the way lower courts decide school cases or casting judges as "Platonic Guardians" over the nation's public school systems.
The justices split even wider in an abortion case rom Massachusetts, when a vote of 4 to 4 to 1 left in doubt constitutional principles that to state laws limiting the right of young females to have abortions without parental consent. There was a similar fragmentation in the decision permitting secret criminal trials, when two of the five who composed the court's majority -- Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Lewis F. Powell -- suggested the opinion did not means what it seemed to say and what five other justices said it said.
Equally surprising was a minor criminal case in which Justice Potter Stewart proposed that the court abandon a series of procedents going back a hundred years. This radical idea, endorsed openly only Justice Rehnquist, who is regarded as the court's most "conservative" member, would have eliminated the primary tool -- reversals of convictions -- used by federal judges to strike a racial discrimination on state grand juries. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for the five justices who rejected the idea, noted that only one other member of the court since 1880 had ever proposed such action.
To this spread of judicial views should be added a score of decisions in recent months in which the court was all over the lot philosophically; then put on top of that the remark of the chief justice a week ago that the "good result" in the employment-discrimination case, with which he disagreed, had been reached "by judicially unauthorized or intellectually dishonest means."
It provides the picture of a court divided within itself, inconsistent, and prepared to see its members exchanging cheap shots on almost any occasion. Perhaps it was fitting that the last day of the term had its own peculiarity. In an unprecedented action, the chief justice announced the court was adjourning for the summer but its "term" would be extended until October 1. No one, except the justices, knows what that means. It sounds as if they need a vacation.