In a scenario out of Groundhog Day, Don Verrilli and the justices discuss a case that was already argued once last term.
"I have the honor to announce, on behalf of the Court, that the October 2011 term of the Supreme Court of the United States is now closed, and the October 2012 term is now convened," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the Court chamber Monday. Surely no one in the room felt regret at the end of last year's wretched term of Court, with its marathon oral argument session over the Affordable Care Act, its swarms of reporters frantically thumbing through slip opinions, its catty leaks from the justices' chambers, and its final collapse into a swamp of ill will and exhaustion.
But it was hard to escape echoes of OT11 during Monday's session. For one thing, the first case was a Groundhog-Day-esque repeat argument of a case originally heard in February 2012. For another, the elegant figure of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, protagonist of much of the health-care drama, was at the lectern again.
Verrilli was asked why the government, which he represents, had changed its position on the case, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., a suit in U.S. court against a Dutch oil company by Nigerian plaintiffs alleging that the company aided and abetted human-rights violations by the Nigerian government in Nigeria. In the case's last iteration, the government had urged the Court not to throw the case out; this time around, the government suggested that the plaintiffs should lose.