Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled Tuesday that the Supreme Court, not the Appellate Court Microsoft wanted, would hear the company's antitrust case appeal. But Jackson awarded Microsoft at least one request, granting the company's request that the final ruling against the company be indefinitely stayed until the Supreme Court issues its own ruling. That buys Microsoft a lot of time, as it would have otherwise had to immediately begin drafting a breakup plan and impose strict curbs on its business practices. Jackson's ruling was certified under the 1974 Expediting Act, which allows him to bypass the Appellate Court for matters of national importance. But it's still possible for the Supreme Court to overturn the decision, sending the case back to the U.S. District Court of Appeals.
"This court hereby certifies that immediate consideration by the Supreme Court of the appeal taken herein is of general public importance in the administration of justice," Jackson wrote in his order.
"We're pleased \[that Judge Jackson\] rejected the government's arguments and decided to stay the entire judgment, pending the appeal," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "This is not unexpected. And it's now the Supreme Court's discretion to accept complete jurisdiction or allow it to be heard by the appeals court."
What this basically means is that Microsoft is free to continue its frenetic release schedule over the next few months (Windows Me, IE 5.5, Windows Media Player 7, Next Generation Windows Services, Windows 2000 SP1 and Datacenter edition, and numerous Microsoft Server products are due soon). But the ruling was not designed to appease Microsoft. Any hope that the Supreme Court might reject the case and send it back to the Appellate Court is minimized somewhat by Jackson's interesting gambit: Had he not stayed the execution of the final ruling, the upper court would have been more inclined to expedite the case forward to the Court of Appeals, which would be able to hear it more quickly. But with the ruling stayed, the Supreme Court will be less likely to give up the case. That choice could take some time, however: The Supreme Court has until October to decide and will probably take at least 90 days.
"The sooner a meaningful remedy is in place, the better it will be for consumers and the marketplace by providing increased innovation, more choices and better products," the DOJ wrote in a statement issued Tuesday. "Given the District Court's decision to stay the remedy during the appeal process, the direct appeal to the Supreme Court is of particular importance to the national interest.