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SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Health care law in March?

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 20 2011 12:45 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2011 file photo, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 91, works in his office at the Supreme Court in Washington. Twenty years have passed since Stevens sat for his official portrait. But it's a testament to his good health how little he seems to have aged since. The portrait had been hanging in Chicago, but arrived at the court last week for its formal unveiling, attended by many of the justices and dozens of former Stevens law clerks.

J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and challengers of the president's health care overhaul are pushing for Supreme Court consideration of the law in late March, judging by the speed with which they are filing legal papers.

Parties in a high court case rarely submit legal briefs before their deadline, and often ask for extensions. But this week, the administration, the 26 states that have joined in opposition to the law and the association of small businesses that also wants the law struck down filed their briefs more than a week before they were due.

Having the case argued in March, instead of April, would give the justices an extra month to write their opinions in what is expected to be the most significant Supreme Court case in recent years.

Legal scholars have complained that the justices do not do their best work when faced with resolving complicated legal issues between the final arguments in April and the term's end in late June. The justices themselves have recognized the problem by trying to have more cases argued early in the term and fewer toward the end.

According to the court's normal scheduling practices, the justices probably won't even decide whether to hear the health care case until the middle of November, at the earliest.

Justice Antonin Scalia, never one to mince words, had a few choice ones this week for the many groups and scholars that submit briefs in support of one side or the other in cases heard by the court.

"I'm not going to waste my time reading that stuff," Scalia said Tuesday at the Chicago-Kent College of Law in Chicago. "I make my law clerks read it."

Dozens of briefs flow in for the biggest cases, many more than when Scalia first joined the court in 1986. He said most are not very helpful.

Scalia allowed that he reads some friend-of-the-court briefs, as they are called. He listed briefs from the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO, lawyers he respects and the federal government.

"I read the government's briefs, no matter how bad," he said.

Twenty years have passed since Justice John Paul Stevens sat for his official portrait. But it's a testament to his good health how little he seems to have aged since.

The portrait had been hanging in Chicago but arrived at the court last week for its formal unveiling, attended by many of the justices and dozens of former Stevens law clerks.

By custom, the clerks pitch in to pay for the artwork and it often is painted during a justice's time on the court. But the portrait isn't displayed until the justice leaves the bench.

Stevens, 91, stepped down last year after more than 34 years on the high court, although he still has an office in the building.

The portrait features a sitting Stevens wearing his trademark bow tie. It hangs in a choice spot, between the statue of John Marshall, the great 19th century chief justice who also served 34 years, and the gift shop. That's where Stevens' new book on the five chief justices he has known is for sale.

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

Follow Sherman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/shermancourt

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