Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court would wind up its term each summer in relatively obscure fashion compared with the Internet microscope trained on its decisions today.
A blockbuster ruling would be reported on the evening news and in the next day's newspapers. Lawyers would get the decision days later in the mail.
But this week, as the nation braces for historic rulings on gay marriage and affirmative action, the Supreme Court will end its term in a hail of tweets, shares and eyes glued to the indispensable SCOTUSblog. The results will be as immediate as a refreshed Web page.
"It gets a whole lot more attention than it used to," said Michael McConnell, a Stanford University law professor and former federal appeals court judge who clerked for the late Justice William Brennan in the early 1980s.
As usual, the high court, starting Monday, will save its most bitterly contested and controversial cases for last. And the wait will be over for everyone anxiously preparing for the legal fate of California's same-sex marriage ban and the 1996 federal law barring benefits for same-sex couples.
"I am waiting patiently just like everybody else," said Karen Golinski, a San Francisco attorney whose legal challenge with her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, to the federal law depends on the Supreme Court outcome.
The court has 11 cases left to decide in the current term and is expected to issue rulings after 7 a.m. Monday Pacific time and at least one or two other days during this final week of its term.
In addition to the challenges to California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the court also must rule in a major affirmative action challenge to the University of Texas' admissions program and another case that may decide the survival of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
But in California, the anticipation surrounds the gay marriage cases, particularly the Supreme Court's final word on Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
Experts familiar with the inner workings of the Supreme Court say the justices' vote on the gay marriage cases has probably been in place since the end of March, when they would have met behind closed doors a few days after holding arguments.
The heavy lifting, however, has taken place since then as the justices muster support for majority opinions, and others craft their dissents for posterity. And with the court expected to be divided over a flash-point issue such as gay rights, it is not considered surprising the justices might wait until the end to finish -- just as they did last year when they ruled on the final day in the challenges to the Obama administration's health care reforms.
"There is no strategic reason for the court to hold onto it," said Bradley Joondeph, a Santa Clara University law professor who clerked for former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "It's just that there is a lot going on."
"I don't think they save them for last," he said. "They just take longer."
With all the rampant speculation about how the justices may rule, most experts predict that the end result this week is likely to be a narrow, cautious approach in both the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage Act cases.
In short, the Supreme Court's rulings may just be a step in the ongoing battle over gay marriage, which is now legal in 12 states.
"If the measure of satisfaction is that (the rulings) will be the end of the conversation, then everybody is sure to be dissatisfied," said Marc Spindelman, an Ohio State University law professor.
But for same-sex marriage foes and supporters, that won't change the fact they'll be riveted to a computer screen or smartphone, starting bright and early Monday morning.
That is certainly true for Renata Moreira and her fiancee, Lori Bilella, a San Francisco couple hoping to marry if Proposition 8 is overturned -- in fact, they've already planned a fall wedding in their native New Jersey.
"We've got ulcers at this point waiting for the Supreme Court," Moreira said. "(As of Monday) we're on alert. Twitter, Facebook. We'll be up at 6 a.m. and be ready to roll."
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236. Follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.