Supreme Court, Sotomayor Face Contentious Issues in New Term

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most recent addition to the Supreme Court, has wasted little time getting ready for the 2009 term that officially begins next Monday.

She's moved into chambers, hired her clerks and participated in a rare argument -- technically from last term -- that was held in early September. She's danced the mambo with a Hollywood star, confessed in her first TV interview that she held her "beating heart" to calm herself when President Obama offered her the job and even threw out a pitch for her beloved Yankees.

Video of Sonia Sotomayor describing how she came to learn that she was goign to be nominated to the Supreme Court.
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She has had to face a dizzying array of briefs that piled up during the summer and now must confront a full docket for the fall.

The docket features a variety of cases ranging from the implications of religious symbols on public ground, a congressional statute banning the distribution of videos containing dog fighting, the constitutionality of life sentences for juveniles and whether the Second Amendemnt's right to bear arms applies to state laws.

Campaign Finance

On Sept. 9, the court came together for an unusual preterm sitting to hear a case that could change forever the influx of corporate money into the election system. At issue is a 2008 documentary called "Hillary: the Movie" -- a critical look at Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was a candidate for president. Citizens United, the conservative nonprofit advocacy group that made the movie, decided to distribute it through a video-on-demand service accessible to cable subscribers.

The Federal Election Commission banned the release, ruling that the movie was a so called "electioneering communication" -- comparable to an ad attacking a candidate -- and because it had been made with corporate funds was subject to restrictions imposed under the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The court is examining whether it should revisit two court precedents dealing with the regulation of corporate spending.

First Amendment

On Oct. 6, the justices will hear an important First Amendment case -- U.S. v. Stevens -- and determine where to draw the line between free speech and animal rights.

At issue is a 1999 federal law aimed at curtailing animal cruelty that bans the distributions of videos depicting dog fighting. Robert Stevens ran afoul of the law and was sentenced to 37 months after he distributed videos that contained images of pit bull fighting.

Stevens argued that he was opposed to dog fighting and was simply producing films to educate the public about the breed. His sentence and the law were later invalidated by a federal appeals court, which found that the distribution of the videos was speech protected by the First Amendment. The case has ignited debate about the restrictions the government can place on speech.

Another First Amendment case set to go before the court concerns the placement of a religious symbol on public land.

The U.S. Park Service has been forced to cover a five-foot cross that had been standing in one form or another in the Mojave National Preserve in California for 70 years as a monument to fallen soldiers during World War I.

In 2003, a federal court ruled that the cross, because it stood on public land, violated the Constitution's ban on a government preference for one religion over another.

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