Today is the first Monday in October, and so is First Monday, the traditional start of the Supreme Court term. The Court already heard one argument -- in the Citizens United campaign finance case -- but it had been carried over from last year, so it doesn't really count.
In any event, continuing its trend from last term, the Court has further front-loaded its caseload -- with nearly 60 arguments on its docket already. Fortunately, unlike last year, we’ll see many blockbuster cases, including:
- the application of the Second Amendment to state gun regulations;
- First Amendment challenges to national park monuments and a statute criminalizing the depiction of animal cruelty;
- an Eighth Amendment challenge to life sentences for juveniles; a potential revisiting of Miranda rights;
- federalism concerns over legislation regarding the civil commitment of “sexually dangerous” persons;
- a separation-of-powers dispute concerning the agency enforcing Sarbanes-Oxley;
- judicial takings of beachfront property; and
- notably in these times of increasing government control over the economy, the “reasonableness” of mutual fund managers’ compensation.
Cato has filed amicus briefs in many of these cases, so I will be paying extra-close attention.
Perhaps more importantly, we also have a new justice -- and, as Justice White often said, a new justice makes a new Court. While Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation was never in any serious doubt, she faced strong criticism on issues ranging from property rights and the use of foreign law in constitutional interpretation to the Ricci firefighters case and the “wise Latina” speeches that led people to question her commitment to judicial objectivity. Only time will tell what kind of justice Sotomayor will be now that she is unfettered from higher court precedent -- and the first term is not necessarily indicative.
Key questions for the new Court’s dynamics are whether Sotomayor will challenge Justice Scalia intellectually and whether she will antagonize Justice Kennedy and thus push him to the right. We’ve already seen her make waves at the Citizens United reargument -- questioning the scope of corporations’ constitutional rights -- so it could be that she will decline to follow Justice Alito’s example and jump right into the Court’s rhetorical battles.
In short, it's the first day of school and I'm excited.