Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor lived up to her billing as a forceful questioner Monday as the Court opened its fall term with two oral arguments and an order list disposing of hundreds of cases that piled up on its doorstep over the summer.
Though she and the rest of the Court sat for a special session in a reargued case from last term from last term on Sept. 9, Monday was the first routine oral argument sitting of the new term. Unlike some new justices who start off asking few, if any, questions, Sotomayor was a frequent interrogator, often formulating her queries as a prosecutor or trial lawyer might: declarative statements about an aspect of the case, followed by the question, "Correct?" She addressed lawyers 19 times in the first case and 36 times in the second argument, at one point apologizing for cutting off Justice Stephen Breyer.
When she was first nominated to the high court in May, detractors said that Sotomayor had a reputation for bullying the lawyers before her during her tenure on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sotomayor's calm demeanor at her confirmation hearing appeared to neutralize that criticism.
Some of the other justices on Monday seemed to be getting their bearings in their new seating arrangement on the bench, caused by the departure of Justice David Souter and the arrival of Sotomayor as the new junior justice. Justices Breyer and Clarence Thomas spent several minutes during arguments peering at the marble friezes of lawgivers on the walls of the Court high above them, apparently noticing new features they hadn't seen before from their earlier vantage points.
The justices heard: Maryland v. Shatzer, a test of the limits of the Edwards v. Arizona rule, which bars police questioning once a suspect asks for a lawyer, unless the suspect initiates a new conversation, and; Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, a question of appellate procedure that triggered a discussion of the importance of the attorney-client privilege. (For more on arguments in the Mohawk case, see this report).
A third case that was scheduled to be argued Monday was pulled from the argument calendar on Sunday because a family member of one lawyer arguing was seriously ill, and the mother of another lawyer set to argue had died -- a rare move for the Court.
The Court also issued hundreds of orders denying review in cases including former Qwest Communications International chief executive Joseph Nacchio's appeal of his conviction for insider trading, a challenge to Florida's law requiring parental permission before a public school student may refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, a challenge to Louisiana's death penalty procedures and a plea by the Bridgeport, Connecticut Catholic Diocese to keep from making public internal documents relating to priest abuse cases.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.