Anticipation and Family Members of Some Justices Filled the Court for the Momentous Decision


The tension and sense of anticipation was palpable inside the Supreme Court on Monday morning, as the justices delivered the remaining opinions and some of the most eagerly awaited decisions of the term.

“Sorry this is not the case you’re waiting to hear so I’ll try to be concise,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett quipped, before delivering the court’s first majority opinion of the day, in a case about suing over regulations.

It was indeed not the case that most observers inside and outside the court were counting down to: on the scope and limits of presidential immunity.

In the audience was Michael Dreeben, a former deputy solicitor general who argued for the government in that case. Mr. Dreeben was greeted by several people before proceedings began, and as the justices spoke on the immunity case, he took notes on a small pad and occasionally twiddled his pen. But he showed little emotion as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered the majority opinion, effectively ruling against him in deciding that presidents have some immunity from criminal prosecution.

The parents of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and the wife of Chief Justice Roberts, Jane Roberts, were also in attendance. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was absent.

Chief Justice Roberts preemptively addressed possible criticism of the ruling as he emphasized that the decision “does not protect any particular president, but the presidency,” and added that presidential immunity did have limits.

“Saying it so doesn’t make it so,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor sharply countered at the beginning of her dissent from the bench, a rare moment that underscored her profound disagreement with the majority.

Justice Sotomayor, who dissented on behalf of the other liberal members of the court, cut a note of exasperation through her lengthy speech, seemingly to sporadically add “imagine that,” “think about that,” and “interesting, history matters right?” as she read from her written words. When discussing and rebutting the majority, she looked several times to her colleagues on her immediate left, Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Roberts. They did not return her gaze.

“We fear for democracy,” she said in conclusion.

The court then turned to lighter matters, as the chief justice concluded the term and recognized retiring workers for their service.

“On behalf of my employees — colleagues” — he said, misspeaking to laughter. “On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the employees.”

At the sound of the buzzer and prompted by a staff member, the audience then rose as the justices filed out, concluding the last day of official business until the new term in the fall.



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