The honeymoon ended yesterday for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
After writing two non-controversial, unanimous opinions earlier this term, yesterday she delivered one of those hydra-headed rulings for which the Burger court is infamous among lawyers.
The introduction read as follows: "O'Connor, J. "J" stands for "justice" , announced the court's judgment and delivered an opinion of the court with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, III-B and IV, in which Burger, C.J., and Brennan, Marshall, Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III-C, in which Burger, C.J., and Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., joined.
"Blackmun., J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
"Brennan, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Marshall, J., joined.
"White, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
"Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion."
It took O'Connor nearly a minute to explain the voting patterns from the bench yesterday.
As she did, Justice John Paul Stevens, who's been through it all, grinned.
But such performances do not amuse the legal profession, which regards the uncertainty caused by these splits as one of the most serious problems in the law today.
The famous Bakke affirmative action case in 1978, for example, had to be boiled down to a chart depicting the individual points of view of each justice, which could then be tallied to see if five of them agreed on anything.
A crucial voting rights issue is back at the court this year because of confusion about what the Supreme Court said two years ago in a similar case from Mobile, Ala.
The court gave up entirely on reviewing school desegregation cases two terms ago because it was speaking with so many voices.
Last week, in an employment discrimination case called Logan vs. Zimmerman Brush Co., the justice writing the majority opinion, Harry A. Blackmun, turned around and wrote a separate plurality "addendum" to his own opinion.
The lawyers in that case said they are still trying to figure out what it meant.
Indeed, even some of the justices expressed concern on that case that the court, in broad areas like equal protection and due process, wasn't making much sense.
"Our opinions in these areas are often criticized, with justice, as lacking consistency and clarity," said Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., joined by Justice William H. Rehnquist in a concurrence with Blackmun.
" . . . Unnecessarily broad statements of doctrine frequently do more to confuse than to clarify our jurisprudence," Powell said. "I have not always adhered to this counsel of restraint in my own opinion writing, and therefore imply no criticism of others."
Yesterday's case was of potential significance to state prisoners and the Reagan administration. The majority ruling did take a small step urged by conservatives--to cut down on use of the federal courts by state prisoners to second-guess the actions of state judges.
The case, Rose vs. Lundy, started when a rapist convicted in the Tennessee state courts went to federal court on a habeas corpus petition to complain about four different actions in his trial. The federal law of habeas corpus requires inmates to process such complaints completely in the state courts before going on to the federal judiciary for relief.
Lundy had "exhausted" state remedies on some of his complaints but not all of them. The question for the justices yesterday was whether federal courts should accept such "mixed" efforts.
Six justices said they should not. But the majority dwindled to a mere plurality on the question of the risk faced by a prisoner who approaches the federal courts with such a mixed petition.