Monday, October 5, 2009

First Monday

It’s the first Monday in October, the day when the Supreme Court begins its annualTerm. You can enjoy previews from Adam Liptak of the NYT and Nina Totenberg on NPR.

Totenberg’s piece reveals the amusing distress the Justices are feeling over the appointment of a new Justice. “You quickly get to view the court as composed of these members, and it becomes kind of hard to think of it as involving anyone else,” says Chief Justice Roberts. “We had a long run together. And you get comfortable with that, and then it changes,” according to Clarence Thomas.

Oh, the poor bubbies! Life must be tough when all you have is a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. I mean, a few times in your career, you have to put up with a new Justice! Imagine that. Maybe we should bring them tea and cookies and their favorite blanket.

The hottest case on the new docket (apart from the campaign finance case that was specially argued in September) is probably the Chicago gun case, which will test whether the recent ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to bear arms applies to the states as well as the federal government.

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, because it tugs in the opposite direction from the usual ideological lines. A ruling for the plaintiff would require holding that the Second Amendment, which originally applied only to the federal government, is “incorporated” into the Fourteenth Amendment and so applies against the states as well. You would expect the conservatives, who normally believe in states rights, to be the ones most opposed to incorporation, and the liberals, who are more amenable to expansive federal power, to be for it. But somehow I’m guessing that’s not how it will turn out.

As I observed in some previous posts on the Heller case, the same could be said of Heller itself. Liberals are usually more amenable to ruling in favor of individual rights and conservatives more to ruling in favor of the government — but not when it comes to guns. Instead, we see a drearily predictable ideological lineup, and not even based on general ideology, but on the ideology of the precise issue. It will be interesting to see if even one of the Justices can vote against their ideological predilictions on this new case.

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