In the final two weeks of its term, the Supreme Court sometimes looked more like the Keystone Kourt. Or perhaps the heavy caseload it complains about finally was getting to the justices.
It started one day when Chief Justice Warren E. Burger announced that a "Justice Stevenson" would read an opinion. There was a long pause before Burger realized the name was Stevens, not Stevenson.
"It must be the end-of-the-term syndrome," Burger said.
Burger had problems again last Wednesday, the court's final day. First he had to rummage through a sheaf of papers in search of an opinion he was about to announce. Then he announced that the court would "adjourn" on the first Monday in October--the day it is scheduled to begin its new term.
There also has been a series of footnote foul-ups. At one point, the court cited an opinion that had not been released. When it was finally announced the next day, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. joked from the bench that "we mentioned this one yesterday."
Another gaffe undoubtedly was not so amusing to Jerry Beheler. He was fighting his conviction for aiding and abetting first-degree murder. Footnote 3 of California vs. Beheler insisted that "Beheler argues that it would be unjust to overturn his conviction," adding, "We do not find Beheler's argument to be persuasive."
That must be why the justices upheld his conviction.
On July 1, came Footnote 7 in Ruckelshaus vs. Sierra Club. There, the majority appeared to forget that it had won the case. It signaled its confusion by including a footnote attacking its own holding as a "truly radical departure from American and English common law."
Presumably, Justice William H. Rehnquist, who wrote the decision, was talking about the views of the four dissenters. The footnote obviously was written before the shift of a vote transformed a Rehnquist minority into a majority.
It was close but, yes, Justice Rehnquist, your side won.
Fortunately, Supreme Court opinions are edited and corrected before being enshrined in the U.S. Reports for the benefit of the ages.