WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday handed down the first ruling of its nine-month term that began in October, more than a month behind its normal schedule.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the first opinion, with the judges ruling unanimously against Army veteran Adolfo Arellano in a technical dispute over disability benefits. The court dismissed a second case concerning the scope of attorney-client privilege without issuing a ruling. written judgment.

For the first time since the covid pandemic broke out in March 2020, the justices held a formal sentencing session, with Barrett reading an 11-page summary of his decision from the bench.

«This is not a case in which contradictory interpretations are equally plausible; it is one in which the choice of Congress is evident,» he wrote, concluding that Arellano’s benefits, which he began receiving in 2011, could not be traced back to date. following his death. high in 1981.

Only five of the nine judges were on the court. Judges Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan were absent. The court did not give reasons for the absences, although before the pandemic it was not unusual for all judges to be in court on days when judgments were rendered but no oral arguments were held.

Since the judicial term runs from October to June, the first opinions are generally published in November or December. They are usually found in discrete and uncontroversial cases, such as the Arellano case, in which the judges are unanimous. They usually have only a few pages.

The court’s most contentious cases, in which judges are divided along ideological lines and trade criticism through their written opinions, are typically not published until late June.

Adam Feldman, who tracks Supreme Court statistics, found that this term is the first since 1917 that the court had not issued a ruling in early December.

Many reasons were offered, including that the court had fewer cases than normal and an increasing number of consequential decisions on emergency applications in what has been called the «shadow file.» Those cases are usually resolved without oral argument and sometimes without a written opinion.

This term has also been charged to the fore with headline-grabbing cases, including a conservative attempt to end consideration of race in college admissions and a case that could further weaken the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Justices may also have been affected by the investigation into the leak last year of a draft opinion showing the court was likely to strike down Roe v. Wade. On Thursday, the court announced that the leaker had not been identified and that it is implementing new measures to improve internal security.

The investigation report detailed that dozens of court employees have access to draft opinions as they are circulated through the building for judges and their staff to review and amend before they are released to the public.

After the leak, Judge Clarence Thomas said in public comments The Washington Post reported that it had undermined trust among judges.

“And when you lose that trust, especially in the institution I’m at, the institution fundamentally changes. You start looking over your shoulder,” she said.