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Back on the bench to announce opinions, court rules against a veteran

On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in a case on veterans’ benefits. It was the first decision made from the bench since the start of the COVID pandemic.Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, which had not announced a decision from the bench since the start of the coronavirus pandemic almost three years ago, returned to the courtroom Monday to issue a unanimous decision in a case on veterans’ benefits.

The decision, the first in an argued case in the term that started in October, was announced by its author, Justice Amy Coney Barrett. It was the first time she had summarized an opinion from the bench.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted a second development: The court “dismissed as improvidently granted” a case on the scope of the attorney-client privilege.

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If the developments were minor, they nonetheless marked a return to normalcy, reviving a courtroom ceremony that has been part of tradition for centuries.

Only three other members of the court attended the session Monday: Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The case on veterans’ benefits, Arellano v. McDonough, No. 21-432, concerned Adolfo R. Arellano, who served in the Navy from 1977 to 1981. About 30 years later, he applied for benefits stemming from what he said was trauma he had suffered while serving on an aircraft carrier that collided with another ship.

The case the court dismissed, In re Grand Jury, No. 21-1397, was the subject of arguments this month. The question was whether a law firm has to turn over documents to a grand jury that contained both legal advice and ordinary tax-return accounting.

The Supreme Court has been moving at an exceptionally slow pace this term. It typically issues its first decisions in November, and the delay this term may be further evidence of frayed relations among the justices after the leak in May of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

An inconclusive report issued last week on the search for the person responsible for the leak was unlikely to have helped matters.

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Until Monday, no justice had delivered an opinion from the bench since March 3, 2020, when Justice Samuel Alito summarized his majority opinion in Kansas v. Garcia, an immigration case. Since then, the court had announced its decisions simply by posting them online.