WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts has publicly yearned for unanimous Supreme Court rulings that clearly state the law for the American people. To that, Justice Antonin Scalia has quipped, "Lots of luck."
The nation's high court has just entered its crunch-month for deciding cases, June.
These are the intense, deadline-filled last weeks of the annual term that began in October. It's a time when wavering justices must stand firm, when drafts must be finished, and when hopes for unanimity are exchanged for a simple five-justice majority.
Even that is hard to come by in June.
At this time last year, as Roberts' first term as chief justice was ending, three significant cases (wetlands protection, campaign-finance regulation and congressional voting districts) produced not three clear-cut decisions, but 17 opinions and three rulings that are still confounding lawyers and lower court judges.
That's not new with this new chief.
When Chief Justice William Rehnquist was trying to shepherd a complicated voting rights case in June 1994, he found justices bailing out of what was to be a Scalia opinion for the court. Even Scalia was having second thoughts.
"I have no desire to go down with the ship," Rehnquist wrote to his colleagues as he reassigned the leading decision in the Georgia redistricting dispute. Rehnquist added in frustration, "This late in the term, there does not seem to be any possibility of getting a court opinion" signed by five justices.
Among the most watched cases now being negotiated in chambers are challenges to public school integration efforts, to federal campaign advertising rules, and to school bans on certain student T-shirts and banners.
"The stakes intensify and the pressure builds in June," says David Ogden, a Washington lawyer and former Supreme Court law clerk.
"These are the last, hardest, cases. The drama is not just in what the opinions are going to say; it's in whether the votes from the conference are goin