Sunday, October 3, 2010

First Monday in October

Monday, October 4 marks the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 term. It’s been nearly a century since the Judicial Code of 1911 designated the “first Monday in October” as the official commencement of the annual SCOTUS term (Pub. L. No. 61-475, § 230, 36 Stat. 1087, 1156); previously, the Court met for two terms each year.

Although oral arguments begin on the first Monday, the Court has actually been hard at work behind the scenes in the last few weeks, selecting petitions for review. The OT2010 argument calendars provide a preview of upcoming cases, including Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n (challenging, on First Amendment grounds, a California state ban on the sale of violent video games to minors) and Snyder v. Phelps (an appeal from the Fourth Circuit’s reversal of punitive damages awarded to a father whose son’s funeral was picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church).

Some cases for this term have been granted review, but are not yet scheduled on the oral argument calendar. The Court’s Orders page lists the disposition of various petitions for certiorari. One case which has been granted cert but is not yet scheduled for argument is Stern v. Marshall, a probate law case which would never grab headlines for its legal subject matter. But Stern’s colorful cast of characters (the late model/reality show star Anna Nicole Smith, her long-deceased oil tycoon husband, and Smith’s former attorney and paramour Howard K. Stern, who recently stood trial in California for conspiring to provide Smith with prescription drugs) guarantee a high level of media attention; and it’s actually the case’s second trip to One First Street. The American Bar Association’s Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases includes copies of the briefs filed in scheduled and unscheduled OT2010 cases. SCOTUSblog is also an excellent source of case information.

What else is new around the highest Court in the land? Of course, there’s a new face on the bench with the August confirmation of Elena Kagan, formerly the dean of Harvard Law School. SCOTUS also unveiled a new website in the spring, which promises to improve the speed at which users can access Court information: yesterday, a press release announced that audio recordings of oral arguments will be posted to the website every Friday. Audio recordings have long been available on The OYEZ Project, but this speedy release on the Court’s official page is a welcome development.

On the lighter side of SCOTUS news: with the arrival of Justice Kagan, the Court now boasts a Justice from four of New York City’s five boroughs. Last month, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart went in search of a potential SCOTUS nominee from the last remaining borough, Staten Island, holding a "moot court" on the subject of same-sex marriage to test their subjects’ legal acumen. Could we see these pizza-scarfing justices at One First Street someday? Only time will tell.

Staten Island Supreme Court Justice
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