The Supreme Court was nearly unanimous Wednesday in pausing from its work to listen to some remarkable music.
Eight of the nine justices -- all but Sonia Sotomayor, who was speaking at New York University's commencement Wednesday -- attended the Court's annual musicale, an invitation-only interlude that draws world-class musical talent to perform in the justices' wood-paneled east conference room.
The late Justice Harry Blackmun launched the event in 1988, but for the last decade Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, probably the Court's most avid fan of classical music, has been the hostess. As she noted in remarks Wednesday, the event always takes place when, for the Court, "the pressure to produce opinions becomes most intense."
For that reason -- especially with the hot button cases on the docket this term -- the musicale was an opportunity to guess at the mood of the Court. Justices ranging from Antonin Scalia to Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas seemed to be in high spirits, and no one appeared sulky or angry. Attendance by so many justices is rare. Could it mean that the opinion-writing is going smoothly and the rulings on health care and immigration will be exemplars of collegiality or even unanimity?
Not likely. The bonhomie probably was generated by the uplifting music of the afternoon. Renowned pianist Leon Fleisher performed for the audience, part of the time playing the piano with only his left hand -- a reminder of the period in the 1960s when he lost use of his right hand because of a rare affliction. Fleisher also played four-handed pieces with his wife Katherine, an accomplished pianist in her own right. And Alisa Weilerstein dazzled the audience with the range of sounds she could squeeze out of her cello.
After the performances Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. thanked the musicians and Justice Ginsburg. Drawing an analogy with the musical scores that accompanied silent movies decades ago, Roberts said the Court was grateful that Wednesday's event had punctuated the silence of the Court on a workaday afternoon.