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A new Justice takes her seat

With President Obama and Vice President Biden and some 450 other witnesses looking on silently, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took her seat for the first time on the Supreme Court bench Tuesday afternoon, the 111th member of the Court in its history.  Among those attending was her predecessor, retired Justice David H. Souter.  The event was so well attended that the Court opened the velvet curtains at the rear of the chamber, to allow for some spectators to stand.  (The transcript of the proceedings is here.)

Escorted to the center of the bench to recite the Judicial Oath as prompted by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Sotomayor then took the traditional seat of the newest Justice — on the far right as the audience sees the bench.  The ceremony took only seven minutes from the time she entered the Courtroom, to sit temporarily in a chair once used during the early 19th Century by Chief Justice John Marshall.

For the ceremony, Justice Sotomayor was wearing a new robe given by her former clerks on the SecondCircuit Court, with a white jabot, a gift from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at her throat. (CORRECTION: The robe was a gift from all of her former clerks, including those on the District Court.) After the formal ceremony, the Chief Justice escorted her down the Court’s front steps — a welcoming gesture that has now become part of a new Justice’s formal arrival.  She and Roberts stood on the Plaza, with Roberts talking amiably and Sotomayor merely smiling.  After the Chief Justice left her side, she waited for the cameras to finish taking photos, remarking at one point: “Tell me when you’ve had enough.”  She was then joined by her mother, brother and other family members for more photos. More high resolution photos are available on the Court’s Public Information Office web site here.

Justice Sotomayor actually began work on Aug. 8 after initially taking the oath of office.

The Court’s special sitting for the ceremony — the Court has been in recess since June 29 – was the first of two.  Tomorrow, at 10 a.m., the Court will hold an 80-minute hearing on a major constitutional controversy over the role of corporations in financing campaigns for the Presidency and for Congress.  That is a carryover case from the prior Term.  It will be Sotomayor’s first hearing as a Justice.  The audiotape of the hearing will be released for public broadcast soon after the session concludes.  The new Term opens formally on Monday, Oct. 5.

Meanwhile, the Court on Tuesday released a revised calendar of arguments set for the October session.  The case of McDaniel v. Brown (08-559) has been removed from the calendar.  It had been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13.  The issue is the standard for federal habeas review of the strength of evidence of a crime.  The Court did not explain the withdrawal of the case from the calendar.  In filing a merits brief, lawyers for Troy Brown, the individual involved in the case, argued that the issues raised by the petition were now moot, and that the case should be sent back for a new look under an alternative legal theory.  It is unclear whether that has made the difference on whether the Court will now go forward to decide the case.)