U.S. Supreme Court rulings on ERISA cases have a profound impact on retirement and other benefits, but that doesn't mean the justices enjoy reviewing them or issuing opinions.
William Rehnquist, the late former chief justice, once referred to ERISA cases as "dreary," adding that the court agrees to review them based on "duty, not choice."
Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor called ERISA cases "tedious," counseling a colleague to "just do it" and to take steps to reduce the risk of being assigned another one by the chief justice.
Her colleague was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said ERISA is a "candidate for the most inscrutable legislation Congress ever passed."
During her first year on the court in 1993, Ms. Ginsburg recalled hoping to receive as her first opinion-writing assignment an "uncontroversial, unanimous opinion," a common practice for newcomers.
Instead, she was "dismayed" to receive "an intricate, not at all easy" ERISA case decided by a 6-3 vote. That's when she asked Ms. O'Connor for advice.
Their comments are contained in an annual analysis of Supreme Court employee benefits cases prepared by law firm Eversheds Sutherland Ltd.
"Taxes and ERISA cases seem to be regarded as the least sexy part of their docket," said Mark Smith, a Washington-based partner, in an interview.
Mr. Smith has been gathering comments via "conventional research techniques," ranging from biographies and law review articles, as well as media-reported remarks, all carefully footnoted in the firm's report.
The Supreme Court's "recurring interest in employee benefits issues is mystifying," said the report, which was issued in early October.
The court keeps taking these cases even though it has reduced its total docket from about 180 merits cases in 1975 to 75 during the last term, the report said.