On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court held its first conference of the new session and considered whether to take up a marriage equality case this year. And today, the justices released the first list of cases to which they'll grant a review. There are no marriage cases on the list.
So what does this mean?
It's impossible to read the court's mind, but delaying a decision generally means the justices need more time to consider whether to take a case. They have additional conferences scheduled from now until the end of their term, so there's no telling exactly when they'll finally choose to hear a case — or choose to reject them all.
Recently, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the court would wait until there was disagreement between appellate courts on the issue of marriage. Looking ahead to upcoming appellate rulings, a decision is due any day now in the Ninth and Sixth circuits. The Ninth is likely to agree with the other circuits that found marriage bans to be unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit is harder to predict, but so far all of the lower-court rulings within the circuit have rejected marriage bans as well.
If a disagreement is to come, there's a good chance that it could be in the Fifth Circuit, which covers Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The judges there are generally more conservative on social issues, and one of the cases they'll hear has already seen a judge uphold a marriage ban.
But a decision from the Fifth Circuit won't happen for another few months. Final briefs are due in early November, and the court hasn't scheduled oral argument. It's possible that they could rush the case along and cram oral argument and a decision into the holiday season, but it's more likely that they'll want to take their time and rule carefully, since they're currently the only circuit in which there's disagreement between lower courts on the constitutionality of marriage bans.
And of course, there's no sure bet when it comes to a ruling. The appeals courts could always issue a surprise decision, as could the Supreme Court. But for now, the safe bets are on a few more weeks of waiting.