First Monday in October

Imagine you are relatively new to your job and the folks over whom you are given a little control and authority have been dazzling at their jobs for years. You are told that your job is like herding cats—smart, independent, and vibrantly eloquent and feisty and self-assured cats.

Your first year goes pretty smoothly. Your leadership is not tested. Then you come to Year 2. As you look at your business plan you realize that you and your co-workers have taken on projects that necessarily will bring out the conflicts between and among you. Never mind herding the cats. Now you are just hoping the cats don't come screeching after you.

Welcome to the world of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who today begins his second term as the head of High Court. If last term prompted talk of Roberts' ability to bring consensus to the Court, this term is likely to prompt talk of the vast divides between the Justices. Abortion rights. Affirmative Action. Global Warming. Criminal Sentencing. Most of the most contentious issues around these days will come before the Justices this term and in most cases will be decided by a single vote or two. No one will say next June that the Chief Justice's leadership wasn't tested this time out.

For another relative newcomer, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., the new term gives him a second chance to make a first impression. How different will he be from his beloved predecessor, Sandra Day O'Connor? And how much will those differences matter from case to case? Just a few of the many questions that will be answered when the dust settles, the decisions begin to come, and the law is crafted by the one court in the land from which there is no appeal.