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Supreme Court Has a Day of Firsts During a Rare Special Session

Numerologists attribute special meaning to today's date, 09/09/09, but differ on just what exactly that meaning is. 

The Chinese, for example, consider the number 9 to be the second luckiest number in their numerology, bested only by the number 8.  The past two years, therefore, have had two very auspicious days for the Chinese: 08/08/08 last year, and 09/09/09 this year.

The Japanese, on the other hand, consider 9 to be the second most unlucky number, so today will probably go uncelebrated on the Japanese archipelago. 

Whatever your thoughts on the numerological significance of today's date, however, it is definitely an historic day for the Supreme Court. 
The Supreme Court is holding a rare special session before the usual beginning of the October term to hear a re-argument of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (08-205), a case dealing with campaign donation laws for corporations that the Supreme Court initially heard last term, but did not issue a ruling on.

If that weren't enough, the argument is the first day on the bench for new Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose investiture occurred yesterday in front of President Obama, Vice President Biden and, for some strange reason, Ricky Martin.

Adding to that, it is also the first argument before the Court by the new Solicitor General, Elena Kagan.

And to top it all off, three veteran litigators - rock stars in the world of Supreme Court oral advocacy - will be presenting before the Court today: Ted Olson, a former solicitor general for the Bush Administration with more than 50 oral arguments under his belt; Floyd Abrams, who has argued more First Amendment press cases before the Court than anyone else; and Seth Waxman, a solicitor general under Bill Clinton, also with over 50 arguments to his name.

If you're a Supreme Court junkie, then you're probably siding with the Chinese right about now: today is definitely your lucky day.

If you're a fan of campaign finance restrictions for corporations, however, then you're probably turning a little Japanese.

Three Justices - Kennedy, Scalia and Thomas - had already openly expressed their desire for a sweeping ruling that would alter much of the Court's past precedent regarding campaign finance.  The liberal wing of the Court, including new Justice Sotomayor, tried during the arguments to influence Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to side with them and their desire to keep the ruling narrow.

Even Kagan, defending the campaign finance laws in question on behalf of the government, conceded eventual defeat, but appealed to the Justices to keep any ruling narrowly focused in order to avoid a flood of corporate money into the election finance system. 

It didn't appear that the Chief Justice or Justice Alito were buying it, though, and based on the tenor of the arguments, the Court seems poised to overturn the campaign finance laws at issue in the case.

Lyle Denniston over at the SCOTUSBlog, however, writes that the arguments reminded him of a case from last term where the Court seemed ready to overturn a key provision of the Voting Rights Act after argument, but ended up keeping the provision alive in a narrow opinion written by the Chief Justice. 

Since the arguments occurred during a special session, we probably won't know for sure how the Court will end up ruling until after the beginning of the October 2009 term on October 5.