ALEX COHEN, host:
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments this term in two long anticipated cases. The first concerns the death penalty and the other is about voter ID laws. The court's new term begins next week on the first Monday in October.
Joining us to talk about today's announcements in the upcoming term is Slate.com and DAY TO DAY's legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick.
DAHLIA LITHWICK: Hi, Alex.
COHEN: Let's start off with this death penalty case. It has to do with lethal injections. Bring us up to speed.
LITHWICK: Sure. This is a test of a question about the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol that is used in virtually every state that now has capital punishment. This particular suit comes up out of Kentucky. It was filed by two death row inmates - Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling Jr. - who were essentially saying that the lethal injection protocol is excruciatingly painful, so much so that it violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
One of these guys, Baze, was actually scheduled to be executed tonight in Kentucky. The Kentucky Supreme Court recently called it off.
So this is going to be an important case, not just for these two petitioners. But also, presumably, we'll have consequences for the death row inmates across the country who are facing execution by lethal injection. It could give some much needed and long overdue clarity as to whether this method of execution is inherently unconstitutional.
COHEN: The court also said that it would hear a voting rights issue. Tell us about what that one will be about.
Ms. LITHWICK: Yeah. This is another important case, Alex. It's a challenge to Indiana's very controversial voter ID law. The law requires voters to present photo ID prior to voting and some of the folks who contest it say that that requires, you know, lengthy drives to get very expensive photo identification. In effect, it precludes them from voting and the claim had been - the civil rights groups have certainly claimed and Democrats have claimed that it's really just a thinly veiled way of disenfranchising foreign minority voters.
Underneath it all is a very, very large sort of partisan ideological conflict that has grown up in this country in the last couple of years, essentially since Bush v Gore were, on the one hand, you have the GOP claiming that there's a rampant vote fraud problem and that people are illegally stuffing the ballot boxes and the things like these voter ID laws need to be enacted in order to do away with that.
On the other hand, you have Democrats saying, no, there's no vote - such thing as vote fraud. In fact, there's this enormous effort at vote suppression as suppressing, intimidating minority and poor voters in order to sort of stuffed the ballot box as in a different way.
And so underneath this specific Indiana case, there's a whole circuit split, different courts of appeals have gone different ways on similar voter ID measures. So it, hopefully, will be a way for the court to sort of weigh in on a question that has really, really divided this country and certainly, the jurists in this country on increasingly partisan lines.
COHEN: Interesting timing as we head into elections 2008. What do these two cases signal to you about the upcoming term?
Ms. LITHWICK: Well, Alex, I think there was some hope that this term would be a little less fractious, a little less tense. Then, as you recall the end of last term, got quite ugly and snippy and the justices were really sort of taking quite personal shots at one another by the end of the term. And I think there was a hope that that would sort of be alleviated, that the court was going to sort of try to keep its head down and dodge some of these big issues. But it certainly looks like having agreed to weigh in on crucial death penalty questions and crucial voting rights questions and other pretty sticky issues that look as though the court is willing to sort of do it again and probably divide along rather partisan lines again.
COHEN: And Dahlia, what are some of the other cases you'll be looking out for this term?
Ms. LITHWICK: Well, as I said, the court hasn't granted cert on that many. It's starting to sort of pick up the pace a little. But certainly, the most important one that everybody is going to be watching is this incredibly important case. It's sort of test the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That was the congressional effort to sort of create due process for enemy combatants.
One of the things it did was essentially stripped the judiciary of the right to hear federal - habeas corpus claims. And so this is, in some sense, the Supreme Court asking a very, very fundamental question about the court's own jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus claims. It is shaping up to be a much more interesting and possibly hot button year than we had initially expected.
COHEN: Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com. Thanks so much.
Ms. LITHWICK: It's always a pleasure.