When D.C. attorney Tom Goldstein next argues before the newly situated U.S. Supreme Court, he’ll face some changes that may feel a little disorienting.
First will be the physical lineup of the justices. In addition to the new faces of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and rookie Samuel A. Alito Jr., the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor means that the rest of the justices will have shifted to new seats.
Assigned by seniority, Justice Antonin Scalia will sit directly beside the chief justice, where O’Connor used to sit. Alito, confirmed and sworn in Jan. 31, will be seated on the far right, where Justice Stephen G. Breyer was.
Even more unnerving, it will be a mystery as to who will pose the first crucial question. In the past, Goldstein says, it was nearly certain that O’Connor would pipe up first, diving straight for the heart of the case.
Goldstein predicts it will take a few years before alliances are formed and patterns emerge. Supreme Court practitioners, Goldstein says, were accustomed to working with "nine people who have been together for a decade." As a result, he says, lawyers "would go into a case with a sense of the playing field."