Tales from the Trail

U.S. Supreme Court turns to question of beaches and hot dogs

WEATHER KATRINAFor all practical purposes, it was like a day at the beach for the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as the justices considered Florida’s program to bring in sand to save miles of eroding shorelines.

A lawyer for six homeowners in Florida’s Walton County argued the program resulted in a strip of state-owned sand between their property and the Gulf of Mexico, depriving them of their exclusive beach access and violating their rights.

The homeowners want the state to pay them undetermined compensation for the “taking” of their property. But some of the court’s liberals appeared skeptical of the argument.

“You didn’t lose anything,” Justice Stephen Breyer told D. Kent Safriet, the attorney arguing for the homeowners. “You didn’t lose one inch. All you lost was the right to touch the water.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether any other homeowners had objected to the program.

Battle brewing over Guantanamo and its Chinese Muslim prisoners

A big battle is brewing over the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Chinese Muslim inmates held there.

GUANTANAMO/The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it would decide whether federal judges have the power to order the release of the ethnic Uighur prisoners into the United States.

The White House and Congress argue the inmates have never been admitted into the United States under U.S. immigration laws, and judges should not be making those sorts of decisions.

Is Justice Stevens sending early warning signal?

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired only one clerk for the term starting in October 2010, instead of the usual four, fueling speculation that he may be planning to step down next summer, the New York Times reports.

Stevens, 89, is the current court’s longest-serving member. Nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford, Stestevensvens joined the high court in December 1975 and went on to become the leader of its liberal wing.

If  the Chicago-born Stevens steps down, President Barack Obama would have his second opportunity to nominate a justice to the court.

Emotions high at White House for “Puerto Rican girl” Sotomayor

USA-SOTOMAYOR/President Barack Obama took a break from his tough fight over healthcare reform on Wednesday to throw a victory party for Sonia Sotomayor, who on Saturday was sworn in as the first Hispanic and third woman justice in the 220-year-long history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sotomayor, Obama’s first nominee to the highest U.S. court, was praised for breaking barriers not only for her ethnic background and gender, but also for her unique history as a justice who was raised in humble New York City surroundings as the child of a single Puerto Rican mother.

 ”It is this nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allowed a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now,” Sotomayor told the crowd in a packed East Room, who responded with applause, loud cheers and a standing ovation.  “I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life and the life we in America are so privileged to lead,” she said.

NRA, Chamber of Commerce split on Sotomayor

Two of the biggest and most influential U.S. conservative groups have split over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

USA-COURTS/SOTOMAYORThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with more than three million business members, urged the U.S. Senate to confirm her. It concluded that the New York judge would provide the court with a needed perspective on business matters.

But the National Rifle Association, with four million members, opposed President Barack Obama’s nominee. They wrote that they see Sotomayor as a threat to gun rights.

The First Draft: Power of persuasion?

President Barack Obama has targetted healthcare reform as his top legislative priority. Now he just has to convince Congress to make it work.

OBAMA/Over the past week, Obama has stepped up pressure on lawmakers, speaking out each day about the need for an overhaul of the unwieldy system. He also has invited key lawmakers to the White House for a little personal persuasion.

Four Republican senators made the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to see the president on Wednesday and today he’ll meet with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and Democrat Ben Nelson. Yesterday Obama also took the opportunity of congratulating the newest congresswoman — Judy Chu of California — on her victory to make a special mention of healthcare and the need to reform the system and lower costs for Americans.

The First Draft: Now to the Q+A for Sotomayor

The gloves are coming off.USA-COURT/SOTOMAYOR

After a day spent mostly silent, looking on as senators in the Judiciary Committee made their formal opening statements and others lauded her accomplishments, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be peppered with questions today about her qualifications for the life-time appointment.

Sotomayor likely will face tough questioning as the lawmakers seek to find out where she might take the country on issues such as abortion, guns and race. Though Republicans have conceded that Sotomayor will most likely win confirmation in the Democrat-dominated Senate, they likely will use the opportunity to focus on what they call her “activist” history.

Also on Capitol Hill, other lawmakers continue to work on legislation to revamp the healthcare industry after President Barack Obama “put everybody on notice” on Monday and and vowed to overhaul the system.

Of umpires and the heart at Sotomayor hearing

Senators trying to make points turned to baseball umpires, football, and matters of the heart, at Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court.

They batted around the words of Chief Justice John Roberts from his own confirmation hearing four years ago when he told the same committee: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.” (For more umpire analogy discussion see The New York Times).

BASEBALL/Democrats sought to portray Sotomayor as a better court umpire than Roberts, who was a nominee of  Republican President George W. Bush.

Sotomayor hearings begin, lines drawn

The political lines are drawn.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee wasted no time in setting the battle plans for the debate over the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

After all is said and done,  she is expected to be confirmed to the highest court in the United States — a lifetime appointment.

But to get there, she must listen to senator after senator talk about whether she is qualified for the job, with her family sitting behind her in the hearing room, and in full public view on televised proceedings. USA-COURT/SOTOMAYOR