Among insiders at the U.S. Supreme Court, the saying is that a new Justice always means a new Court. With all nine Justices taking part jointly in most of the Court’s work, the dynamic is said to change with each new arrival.
The Court gathers on the first Monday in October – the 4th – as a new Court for the second time in a year. Justice Elena Kagan takes her seat for the first time, one year after Justice Sonia Sotomayor did – meaning three women will serve together for the first time in the Court’s history.
It is a younger Court: with the 50-year-old Kagan replacing the 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, the average age of the Justices drops to 64. Whether Kagan will be able to bridge some of the deep philosophical divisions within the Court is a hope of the White House, but not a guarantee. The Court’s new term has much that could renew the divisions, on a wide range of issues with social and cultural impact.
- First Amendment – The court will address several major controversies, including California’s ban of violent video games for minors and a controversy over anti-war picketing at the funerals of soldiers killed in war.
- Immigration – The court will review an Arizona law that punishes companies for hiring illegal aliens.
- Prison overcrowding – A hot dispute over a court-ordered release of some 40,000 prison inmates in California to ease serious overcrowding will be reviewed.
- DNA – testing to help decide whether a convicted individual was innocent. Later on, it may take on a conflict among lower courts on the constitutionality of police use of GPS devices to track criminal suspects.
- Workers’ rights – An issue in a massive sex discrimination case involving the discount Wal-Mart chain will be heard.