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October 5th, 2009
09:57 AM ET

Sotomayor headlines Supreme Court's new session

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Jeffrey Toobin says Justice Sotomayor will probably vote very much the way Justice Souter did."]

The Supreme Court starts its new term this morning. Justice Sonia Sotomayor will make her debut on the bench and there are also some critical cases on the docket to talk about.

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, author of the best-selling book "The Nine, spoke with John Roberts on CNN's "American Morning" Monday.

John Roberts: So what impact do you think Justice Sonia Sotomayor is going to have on the court and how do you think she'll be different than Souter was?

Jeffrey Toobin: Initially, probably not that much. I think she'll probably vote very much the way Souter did. She seems to be a moderate liberal, he was a moderate liberal. But over time there certainly could be an influence. You know, the liberal block of the court has been pretty old in recent years. Justice Stevens is 89 years old, Justice Ginsburg is 76. The fact that there is this injection of new blood that she's only in her mid-50s. Justice Stevens likely to leave, likely to be replaced by President Obama with another liberal, that could generate some force on the liberal side even though they are basically outnumbered.

Roberts: Hard to think that someone in their mid-50s could be considered new blood.

Toobin: Your name sake, the Chief Justice Roberts, I loved the way they always talked about him, he's so young, so young. Good for us.

Roberts: People obviously will be looking for rookie mistakes to be made, but she's got 17 years on the bench, she proved herself when they had that rare September hearing on the Hilary Clinton movie, that she's not just going to just sit back and let the other ones take the lead she jumped in there and asked a lot of questions.

Toobin: She has more federal judicial experience than any nominee in 100 years. I don't think there's a shred of doubt that she can do the job. There are also a lot of institutional safeguards in the court. Nobody ever really embarrasses themselves. It's just a question of how they vote and you never know precisely how they'll vote until they start voting.

Roberts: People believe that this is going to be one of the most significant Supreme Court seasons in recent memory. We've got this case that we were talking about this morning…the Salazar v. Bono case about this cross that was erected in 1934 in the Mojave Desert. It was a tribute to fallen veterans of World War 1 and about ten years ago it became a problem.

Toobin: You know this issue, these church/state issues, public displays of religious activity is something that the court has struggled with for decades and they haven’t really figured out a way…I think the court will probably leave it alone. I don't think there's any threat that this is a state expression of religion. They’ll be moving in that direction generally but you never know.

Roberts: Couple of others to get to, the Donald v. Chicago this falls out of the the second amendment case in Washington?

Toobin: Right, a couple years ago, the court in a major, major decision said the federal government could not violate individual's right to keep and bear arms. The question in this case is can state governments regulate guns? Big issue because most gun control laws are state laws. Again, very likely to be a 5-4 decision. Anthony Kennedy is probably likely to side with the conservatives. I think it's going to be a loss for gun control.

Roberts: And two cases that will be heard concurrent with each other. Sullivan v. Florida, Graham v. Florida. Can you put away a minor for life without parole for a non-murder offense?

Toobin: Famous decision by Justice Kennedy in 2005 said, you can no longer execute juvenile offenders. The death penalty can only apply to adults this case tries to push that further. Can you put children away for life for a crime that's not murder? Very hard case. Again, very likely to come down to Anthony Kennedy’s vote.

Filed under: Supreme Court
soundoff (One Response)
  1. gregg gillespie

    I can't believe the people who must judge for or against gun control haven't read and dated the Constitution. The second ammendment was passed in 1791. We had no real army, we couldn't afford to maintain an army. So the government passed a low for a persons right to bare arms. This way when called to the service of the country, the men would already have their arms at their side. In addition it was for the right to hunt and provide for a family. Pistols as such were not in big demand, and were not readily seen as a part of the arms definition.
    Today it is judged the constitution will say you can have a gun–no matter what it is–and carry it with you or hid it in a drawer at home. You can have a rifle that can kill twenty people at a time. No I believe in the right bear arms, but only as it might be defined in the date and time of the Constitution.

    October 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm |