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O’Connor, retired Supreme Court justice, in Phila. to hear cases today

In legal circles the 13 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals are often called the "Supreme Court:" the real Supreme Court accepts so few cases for review that the decision of a U.S. Circuit Court is the end of the line for most litigants.

In legal circles the 13 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals are often called the "Supreme Court:" the real Supreme Court accepts so few cases for review that the decision of a U.S. Circuit Court is the end of the line for most litigants.

This morning that phrase takes on added meaning as retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor comes to Philadelphia to take a seat on a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

O'Connor, 78, who retired from the nation's high court on Jan. 31, 2006 after almost 25 years, will join the Third Circuit's Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica and Judge Marjorie O. Rendell to hear oral argument in a total of four cases today and tomorrow.

Today's three cases deal with legal disputes involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, whether a criminal conviction in Puerto Rico triggers a provison of federal law barring felons from possessing guns, and the oft-litigated area federal habeas corpus law.

Tomorrow the three jurists will hear argument on a case involving workplace safety laws and employee exposure to a carcinogen known as hexavaley chromium.

Connor will also work with the two Third Circuit judges to decide 12 other appeals but on the filed legal briefs and without oral argument.

O'Connor resigned from the Supreme Court two years ago to care for her husband of 56 years, John Jay O'Connor III. She has remained active in the law, sitting by designation in seven other federal appeals circuits before today's appearance in Philadelphia.

U.S. Circuit Courts often use designated judges - judges serving on other circuits, federal trial courts and such special courts as the U.S. Court of International Trade - to fill out three-judge panels needed to consider cases.

The political stalemate that has often marked the relationship between the White House and U.S. Senate over the last 20 years has resulted in numerous cases where Circuit Court vacancies stay vacant for months or years.