Will the U.S. Supreme Court act differently now that it has two female justices again?

How much will replacing a Republican president's appointee with a Democratic president's shift the court?

Dahlia Lithwick, an insightful regular of the Supreme Court press corps, wrote in Newsweek recently that it's clear that Justice Sonia Sotomayor?s substitution for Justice David Souter "will do nothing to alter the balance of the court."

But, at the risk of sounding dated, not even her hairdresser knows for sure.

What is certain is that there are potential blockbusters on the docket for the term that opens Monday. And the court raised the stakes last week by taking on a case that challenges gun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill.

The justices already held a special August sitting to rehear Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case about limits on corporate spending in federal elections.

During its fifth term under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court will tackle dry though important cases involving patents, securities oversight and lawyers? performance.

But there are headline grabbers, too.

McDonald v. Chicago (08-1521): Though the Bill of Rights was adopted as a check on the federal government, the court has said many of its provisions protect individuals from state government actions, too. But they?ve never included the Second Amendment?s right to bear arms in that group. In 2008, the court struck down the District of Columbia?s handgun ban, saying the Second Amendment limits federal gun controls. Even if that extends to state and city governments, some gun laws still could be adopted; the question would be how restrictive. Argument: probably next year.

Salazar v. Buono (08-472): The Veterans of Foreign Wars erected a cross in a remote part of the Mojave National Preserve in 1934 to honor fallen service members. In 2001, a former preserve employee who now lives in Oregon sued, calling the cross an unconstitutional establishment of religion. To save the cross, Congress first designated it a national WWI memorial then transferred the acre on which it sits to the VFW, a private owner. The question is whether that transfer removes any government endorsement of religion. Twice in the past four years, the court has left alone long-standing Ten Commandments displays on public land, including one at the Texas Capitol. The plywood box hiding the Mojave cross might soon come off. Argument: Wednesday.

U.S. v. Stevens (08-769): Robert Stevens says he opposes dogfighting and makes informational pit bull training videos. Federal prosecutors say he sells films showing savage dog fights, a violation of federal law banning material that shows animal cruelty. Even if the videos are offensive, it would be a major step for the court to liken depictions of animal cruelty to obscenity, with no First Amendment protection. Argument: Tuesday.

American Needle v. NFL (08-661): In 2000, the National Football League gave Reebok an exclusive 10-year deal to produce all logo wear for the league and its teams. That knocked out smaller companies like Illinois-based hatmaker American Needle, which says the deal inflated the price of fitted caps from $19.99 to $30 and violated antitrust law. In a friend of the court brief, players associations for professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey say that it isn?t about apparel at all and that the NFL owners want the court to loosen the antitrust grip "so they can restrain competition with impunity in the market for player services." Stay tuned.

URL: http://www.star-telegram.com

—Fort Worth Star-Telegram