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Supremes set to tackle hot button issues

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October 4, 2009

Hot-button issues including gun rights and counter-terrorism will be on the docket when the US Supreme Court, including newest member Sonia Sotomayor, begins a new term on Monday.

The nation’s highest court, whose decisions deeply affect US policy, will also go to work amid growing speculation over the possible departure of a judge.

The nine justices have agreed to examine 55 cases this term. They will soon decide whether to add to that roster an appeal brought by Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release and are seeking resettlement in the United States.

Another sensitive case likely to be taken up by the court is President Barack Obama’s request to block the release of photos showing detainee abuse at the hands of US personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite a court order demanding the images be made public.

The justices have already agreed to take on a case that involves defining the parameters of the term “material support to terrorism,” a charge that has been leveled in recent years in dozens of cases to obtain some 60 convictions.

It has become an important tool for prosecutors because it is such a broad term.

But its use is contested by a rights group on behalf of an organization that has worked on conflict resolution and human rights issues with members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Whatever decision the court makes, it will affect dozens of detainees at Guantanamo who have had the charge leveled against them.

On gun rights, the court will hear a case asking it to specify whether its June 2008 ruling confirming Americans’ rights to bear firearms, at home and for self defense, applies even where local and state governments ban weapons.

The justices will also decide whether minors can be sentenced to life in prison without parole for crimes other than murder, with some 100 prisoners in this situation in the United States.

The case in question involves two Florida prisoners, who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at ages 13 and 16 for rape and burglary.

In a case with international scope, the court will be asked to decide whether the immunity of former Somali prime minister Mohammed Ali Samatar can be lifted to allow him to be pursued for alleged torture and murder carried out in the 1980s.

Other issues on the docket include questions over whether financial strategies or management principles can be patented, whether videos showing animal cruelty are illegal, and the legality of a two meter cross that stands in the middle of a desert.

The financial crisis has made its mark on the court’s roster of cases as well. The justices will decide whether shareholders in an investment fund have the right to limit fees paid to outside consultants.

The composition of the court has already changed once this year with the confirmation of Sotomayor — the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

An atypical court nominee, Sotomayor was born to Puerto Rican parents, raised in New York’s hardscrabble Bronx neighborhood, and worked her way up despite suffering childhood diabetes.

But as she begins her new job, all eyes and ears will be on Justice John-Paul Stevens, the doyen of the institution.

Named to court in 1975 by former president Gerald Ford, the 89-year-old is the head of the liberal wing of the court. But his decision to hire only one clerk for the fall 2010 term has touched off speculation that he is planning to retire, though there has been no official announcement.

Even if Stevens does announce his retirement, the opportunity for Obama to pick his second Supreme Court justice is not likely to change the composition of the court, which has four liberal-leaning members, four conservative-leaning, and Anthony Kennedy — the court’s swing vote.

6 Responses to Supremes set to tackle hot button issues

  1. Warren

    October 5, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    The United States Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land

    Many states, including both California and Arizona, incorporate that statement into their state constitutions. You can plainly see how faithfully they adhere to it.

    Personally, if I intended to keep and bear arms California would not be among my top choices of places to live.

    —W—

  2. Sandra Price

    October 5, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Thanks Warren, that explains a lot of why so many people try for local laws within the states. I have mixed emotions on this after moving to Arizona where the residents demand stronger “moral” laws against women, gays and people of color.

    I assume that it would be better for me to move back to California where I was raised without these restrictions.

    When I read the Constitution I see a document that restricts the government not the people. That shows my old age. All I want from my federal government is to first protect us from attacks from other nations. I so not need a federal government to tell me what not to do.

    Pandora’s Box fits the problem. But it is all we have. Keep the lid on that damn box for our own security.

  3. Sandra Price

    October 4, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I sincerely hope the Supreme Court sits tight on the 2nd Amendment even when it is not secured in the individual states. I am told by many Republicans here in Arizona that a secret deal is in the works to remove the freedom to bear arms.

    I have fought for the right for women to have abortions and for terminally ill people to be able to pull the plug on themselves. I believe the abortion issue is written in cement at this time and cannot be denied by the individual states. The right to die with dignity and rights for gays to marry should also be free for Americans to decide for themselves. On this Death with Dignity issue, the paperwork is extensive and it should remain so. We have Directives for people to fill out when their decisions on their death is necessary. Nobody is forcing anyone to die and it is the final choice to be given to all free Americans. Pay no attention to the Republican behind the green curtain.

    Many of my old GOP members voted for President Obama when these issues became threats by the Republican National Committee.

    I can only hope our new Supreme Court Judge will allow these freedoms to remain within the choice of the people themselves.

  4. Warren

    October 4, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    On the firearms matter, it’s the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment that’s in question, not the Second. The Court decided the meaning of the Second Amendment last term. Now the question is whether it applies to the states.

    Believe it or not, it has never been entirely clear that rights guaranteed to you as a federal citizen by the U.S. Constitution apply to rights you have as a subject of your state government. That is, just because you are guaranteed a right as a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean that you have that right as a citizen of Arizona, or whatever other state.

    In an attempt to clarify the issue, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865. Section 1. reads:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    The part in question is “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” In other words, if a right is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, state law may not abridge it.

    You would think that would have settled it, but it didn’t. The courts have historically taken a very narrow construction and have essentially ignored the intent.

    By the way, this matter affects much more than just firearms laws. It applies to abortion and other matters where the courts have decided that a Federal right exists, but states are not obligated to uphold the right.

    —W—

  5. Sandra Price

    October 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Wow Warren, that adds fuel to the fire for our right to own weapons. I hope Issodhos pops in soon as he has been my authority on this for years.

  6. Warren

    October 4, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Maybe G.W. Bush was right— the U.S. Constitution is just a piece of paper.

    The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted partly to reaffirm that the “privileges and immunities” guaranteed by the Constitution could not be nullified by state law. Remember, this was 1865 and much of the newly-reunited United States was coming to grips with emancipation. Part of the purpose was to consolidate law around the Constitution. In the first case to come before the High Court, the “Slaughterhouse Cases”, the Court felt that the 14th Amendment was primarily aimed at protecting former slaves and did not otherwise broadly apply. They decided that it applied only to federal law, not to state law — which is EXACTLY the opposite of its clearly stated intention. The 14th Amendment was a victim of infanticide by the Justices on a 5/4 decision.

    The Court established this interpretation nearly 150 years ago. Since then there must have been thousands of cases decided by lower courts based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation in 1865. You can see the problem with the Court now reversing it’s interpretation. “Ooops, we were wrong. Sorry.” What’s the effect on 150 years of legislation and court decisions based on that? Pandora’s Box.

    The rights supposedly guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution seemingly only apply to residents of Washington DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa.

    —W—