New Court: Justices to Weigh Free Speech Case

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It's the first Monday in October and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to begin its new term.

For the first time in U.S. history, three of the nine justices are women -- Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Kagan replaced Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired in June after more than 34 years on the high court.

Chief Justice John Roberts also marks his fifth anniversary on the high court. The justices are expected to begin work denying many of the nearly 2,000 appeals that have piled up in recent months.

The justices sit in the Supreme Court chamber according to seniority with the chief justice at the center of the bench. The retirement of Stevens, who had served longer than the others, means Roberts now will be flanked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.

Recently, the court has been more sympathetic to arguments that blur the line between government and religion, as long as one religion is not favored over another.

During the new term, the court will look at provocative anti-gay protests at military funerals and a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children. These cases worry free speech advocates, who fear the court could limit First Amendment freedoms.

The funeral protest lawsuit over signs praising American war deaths, "is one of those cases that tests our commitment to the First Amendment," said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

An Arizona law imposing penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants is also before the court this term. At issue is whether the state law intrudes into the area of immigration, which is the federal government's responsibility.

Georgetown University law professor Brian Wolfman said the court's ruling on the case could signal how it might resolve another suit over the Arizona immigration law that puts local police officers on the front lines of enforcing federal immigration law.

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