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Dean Johnson on what to expect from the Supreme Court this year

Today is the First Monday in October. The Supreme Court opens its Fall term today.

The event is historic in that today is the first time that the Court will convene with 3 female Justices sitting.

Court watchers will, for the second term in a row, be watching a new Justice for clues as to her judicial style. But Elena Kagan’s role will be limited this term because her role as Solicitor General has forced her to recuse herself from 25 of the 54 cases on the docket.

There are three cases that will prove to be of particular interest to Californians.

Snyder v. Phelps will be argued this Wednesday. This is a First Amendment case in which followers of the Rev. Fred Phelps showed up at the funeral of Albert Snyder’s son, a Marine who was killed in Iraq. The demonstrators shouted “You’re going to Hell” and a variety of Anti-Gay Epithets (apparently, Snyder’s personal theology holds that the deaths of soldiers in Iraq is God’s punishment for the United States’  tolerance of homosexuality. No, I don’t make this stuff up!) Phelps sued for willful infliction of emotional distress. The Fourth Circuit reversed. As things now stand, Mr. Phelps has to pay Snyder’s court costs and attorney fees.

Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants’ Association is an appeal from a 9th Circuit decision that struck down California’s ban on the sale and rental of violent video games to minors. California will argue that the Court should extend a 1968 decision that allowed restriction on the sale of sexual materials to minors and hold that distribution of violent materials can likewise be restricted consistent with the First Amendment. Six other states have similar statutes. Every lower court that has examined the issue has rejected the argument that California proposes. The entertainment industry is concerned that, if California’s argument is accepted, a similar ban could be imposed on movies, books and other forms of speech. (Like, for example, kids could be prohibited from seeing Terminator on video.)

In Schwarzenegger v. Plata the Court will decide whether a three judge panel of the District Court had jurisdiction to order prisoner releases to alleviate overcrowding in California prisons.

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