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Microsoft Case Heads for Appeals Court

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today against bypassing a lower appeals court, effectively prolonging the appeals process by at least a year.

Justice Department lawyers had requested that the Supreme Court bypass the appeals court and hear arguments this winter over whether the software company should be broken up. Prosecutors had argued that a speedy verdict was in the best interests of the nation.

Microsoft wants to overturn Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s June ruling that the company illegally stifled innovation and bullied competitors. The judge postponed enforcement of his breakup order while Microsoft appeals.

Microsoft had opposed the government’s request for immediate Supreme Court review, saying it “would impose an extraordinary burden on the court” and that there was no reason to depart from the normal procedure of using the appeals court to narrow the complex legal issues and voluminous trial record.

The case now proceeds to a seven-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which has indicated its intent to move quickly. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s announcement, the Court of Appeals asked the Justice Department and Microsoft to submit proposed schedules for proceeding by next Monday.

Dissenting from today’s Supreme Court decision, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he had voted to hear the appeal because the case “significantly affects an important sector of the economy.”

“Speed in reaching a final decision may help create legal certainty,” Justice Breyer wrote. “That certainty, in turn, may further the economic development of that sector so important to our nation’s prosperity.”

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