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New Court Term Puts Spotlight on Gun Rights, Free Speech, Business

The Supreme Court opened a new term on Monday with a docket full of cases concerning corporations, compensation, and the financial markets. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal previews the term with Gwen Ifill.

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    Here now for a look ahead at the coming Supreme Court term is Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

    Welcome back, Marcia.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Thanks, Gwen.


    First day back in school, almost. First Monday in October, the court is back. What are the big issues that they're facing this term?


    Well, Gwen, it's going to be, I think, a very interesting term. I believe that we will learn a lot about the court's newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, and I think we'll also learn quite a bit about where the Roberts court is headed.

    And I feel that way because there is almost a rich list of constitutional issues on the court's docket. Constitutional cases don't dominate the docket. In fact, it's really cases that have to do with interpreting statutes and regulations that have the greatest number on the docket.

    But the constitutional issues, they reveal the fault lines among the justices, and there are also just really interesting fact patterns in the cases.


    Well, this week, for instance, you've got two First Amendment cases right off the bat.


    Absolutely, and two very different First Amendment cases. One involves speech, and one involves religion. The speech case…


    Good thing they're not hot-button issues, huh?


    Right, absolutely. The religion case, these cases always tie the court up in knots. The speech case involves a federal law that was enacted in 1999. It prohibits the possession and distribution of images of animal cruelty, and the Obama administration is defending that.

    A Virginia man was charged with possessing and trying to sell images of animal cruelty. It really included a dog fight video made in Japan. And he says that this is protected speech. The Obama administration is asking the court to say, no, this is a category of speech that isn't protected by the First Amendment.

    The religion case involves the type of case we've seen time and again at the Supreme Court. A cross was erected in the Mojave National Preserve. It was erected in 1934 by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The challenge here is that this violates separation of church and state. It's a cross on public land.


    Seventy-five years later, this finally makes its way to the Supreme Court?


    It's actually been in the courts a while, but really only about 10 years. But you're right: It took a long time.

    Congress saw the problem and tried to solve it by transferring the acre of land in the preserve that the cross is on to the VFW in exchange for an acre of land somewhere else, but the court saw this as trying to circumvent the court's order that the cross should come down.