Terrica Carrington at the Copyright Alliance brings us a must-read first rate analysis of oral argument before the Supreme Court in the Google’s appeal of its loss to Oracle in the Federal Circuit. (Full disclosure, I co-wrote an amicus brief supporting Oracle in the case on the fair use question.)
Bear in mind that the now-eight Justices on the Supreme Court will meet today (October 9) to vote on the cases like Google v. Oracle that were argued before the Court on Tuesday and on Wednesday (when the Oracle case was argued). After the vote, the most senior Justice in the majority (or one side in case of a tie) will assign the task of writing the opinion for the majority, and the most senior Justice in the dissent (or the other side in the case of a tie) will do the same among the dissenters. Concurrence opinions assign themselves essentially.
Opinions in the decided cases for the 2020-21 term will probably be released in mid-June 2021.
If confirmed, Judge Amy Coney Barrett will not vote on the Oracle case because the vote will have already occurred before she is seated. That means that there could be a split decision in Oracle which would probably mean that the Federal Circuit ruling below in Oracle’s favor will be affirmed by the tie vote. (There actually were two rulings by the Federal Circuit in Oracle’s favor, so both would likely be binding on Google.)
This would probably bind Google to the $5,000,000,000 payment to Oracle required by the Federal Circuit decision(s), but likely will not be binding precedent in other cases including other cases yet to be brought against Google or otherwise.
If they lose or there is a tie vote, Google will almost certainly engage in their usual lawfare shenanigans to get another bite at the apple. One manifestation of Silicon Valley rage might be to ask for a rehearing on the merits before the Supreme Court if the current vacancy is filled before the ruling is handed down in (presumably) June 2021.
It would be unusual for the Court to grant a rehearing on the merits (as opposed to denying an appeal on a per curium opinion or a writ of certiorari which is the more common rationale for requesting a rehearing). It would be particularly unusual when the case had been fully briefed and argued before the Court as is the case with Oracle.
There is a long line of similarly situated cases where a rehearing was requested after the death or illness of a Justice that created the vacancy–and most were denied. The Court often held the subject case over the Court’s summer recess, holding oral arguments months later which obviously did not happen in Google v. Oracle. (See Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Co. v. Walker, 327 U.S. 812 (1946), 329 U.S. 1 (1946); MacGregor v. Westinghouse Elec. & Mfg. Co., 329 U.S. 402 (1947); Baltimore & Ohio R.R. v. Kepner, 314 U.S. 44 (1941); Home Ins. Co. v. New York, 122 U.S. 636 (1887) (granting rehearing February 7, 1887), and 134 U.S. 594 (1890) (reargument March 18-19, 1890); Selma, Rome & Dalton R.R. v. United States, 122 U.S. 636 (1887) (granting rehearing March 28, 1887), and 139 U.S. 560 (1891) (reargument March 25-26, 1891).
However, since the Oracle case was fully briefed and argued and then some, requesting a rehearing seems a fruitless exercise, which of course, doesn’t mean Google won’t pull up their big-boy fruitless of the looms and give it the old Silicon Valley try. Granting rehearings on the merits because of a vacancy would not be a good precedent for the Court as there are going to be lots of cases in a procedurally similar situation, and they’ll all want it just as a matter of drill.
Rule 44 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States provides:
Any petition for the rehearing of any judgment or decision of the Court on the merits shall be filed within 25 days after entry of the judgment or decision, unless the Court or a Justice shortens or extends the time. The petitioner shall file 40 copies of the rehearing petition and shall pay the filing fee prescribed by Rule 38(b), except that a petitioner proceeding in forma pauperis under Rule 39, including an inmate of an institution, shall file the number of copies required for a petition by such a person under Rule 12.2. The petition shall state its grounds briefly and distinctly and shall be served as required by Rule 29. The petition shall be presented together with certification of counsel (or of a party unrepresented by counsel) that it is presented in good faith and not for delay; one copy of the certificate shall bear the signature of counsel (or of a party unrepresented by counsel). A copy of the certificate shall follow and be attached to each copy of the petition. A petition for rehearing is not subject to oral argument and will not be granted except by a majority of the Court, at the instance of a Justice who concurred in the judgment or decision.