As Term Begins, US Supreme Court Looks Less Male and More Liberal HISTORIC SESSION

Article excerpt

WHEN Chief Justice William Rehnquist today opens the 1993-94 term of the United States Supreme Court, a slight, erect womanm.Harge glasses and pursed lips giving her a quizzical appearance - will be seated at the end of the nine-justice bench in the spot traditionally occupied by the court's newest member. She is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, named by President Clinton last summer to succeed retiring Justice Byron White.

This is a new-look Supreme Court, not only because Justice Ginsburg is a newcomer, but also because this is the first time two women have sat on the nation's highest bench. Ginsburg, who joins Sandra Day O'Connor, is expected to bring a liberal voice to what has been a conservative-leaning body.

Though she is not expected to change the outcome of many votes, the new jurist could begin to influence the tone and scope of the court's rulings. She will bring a new chemistry to the bench in a term that many say will not be marked by landmark decisions but will feature important individual cases, such as on abortion.

"She will provide a reliable vote for the liberal position on civil rights, sex discrimination, and similar issues," says Mark Tushnet, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. He speculates, however, that Ginsburg might make her presence felt quickly on capital punishment. White usually voted with a 5 to 4 majority to uphold death sentences. Several death-penalty cases are due this term. …