As the fall air settles in throughout parts of the country, kids return to school, and the football season kicks off, another autumn tradition has begun: the start of a new Supreme Court term. This new term should be filled with lots of intrigue and interest, and not just for the fact that a new face is among the justices on the bench.
Much of the media attention on the Supreme Court this summer focused on the retirement of Justice Souter and the appointment and confirmation of his replacement, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Although both Justices Souter and Sotomayor are considered relative “liberals,” the change in personnel still could have long-term effects on the Court and our legal system. For example, Justice Sotomayor’s record shows a tendency to side with police officers and law enforcement agents, which, depending on the circumstances, may put her at odds with her more traditionally liberal colleagues. Further, Justice Souter had a long-standing relationship with Justice Kennedy, the traditional swing vote in close 5-4 cases. Whether Justice Sotomayor or any other liberal justice will be able to step into Justice Souter’s shoes and convince Justice Kennedy to line up with the liberal votes is yet to be seen.
As the term gets rolling, however, attention will likely shift away from the individual justices and more toward some of the high-profile cases.
One of the first cases to garner a lot of attention involves an emotional topic-he illegal “sport” of dog fighting. United States v. Stevens presents the Court with aFirst Amendment challenge to a federal law that criminalizes the creation, sale, or possession of videos that portray animal cruelty. This specific case focuses on videos involving pit bull fighting. The case will likely garner much media attention given the gory details, and resolution of the legal issues should have lasting impacts.
On the other end of the excitement spectrum is Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight, a case involving a challenge to the corporate oversight authorized by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This legislation was part of the congressional response to the implosion of Enron Corporation, and it permits certain new government regulations and oversight of corporations. Given the current economic and corporate environment, this is a case that is likely to have wide-ranging implications for businesses and the economy.
Other important rights and responsibilities are again before the Court this term, including the right to a speedy trial, the right to legal counsel during police questioning, and union collective bargaining rights. The Supreme Court is frequently the one branch of government that gets the short end of the stick when it comes to media attention. However, as these early cases show, the Court’s decisions can affect our everyday lives.
This article was prepared by the ABA Division for Public Education. This article does not necessarily represent the official policies of the American Bar Association or of Blethen Gage & Krause, and the information contained in the article should not be acted on without professional advice. This article focuses on broadly applicable legal principles. Contact a lawyer for your specific situation. Copyright © 2009, American Bar Association, 321 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654.