Supreme Court: Some Noteworthy Cases Coming up in New Term
UPDATED: 7:11 AM EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is starting a new term that promises a steady stream of divisive social issues, and also brighter prospects for conservatives who suffered more losses than usual in recent months.
The justices are meeting in public Monday for the first time since a number of high-profile decisions in June that displayed passionate, sometimes barbed disagreements and suggested some bruised feelings among the nine judges.
The first case before the court involves a California woman who lost her legs in a horrific accident after she fell while attempting to board a train in Innsbruck, Austria. The issue is whether she can sue the state-owned Austrian railway in U.S. courts. The court also is expected to reject hundreds of appeals that piled up over the summer.
Future cases will deal with abortion, religious objections to birth control, race in college admissions and the power of public-sector unions. Cases on immigration and state restrictions on voting also could make it to the court in the next nine months.
The term will play out against the backdrop of the presidential campaign, in which some candidates are talking pointedly about the justices and the prospect of replacing some of them in the next few years. Four justices are in their 80s or late 70s, led by 82-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Commentators on the left and right say the lineup of cases suggests that conservatives will win more often than they will lose over the next few months, in contrast to the liberal side's success last term in gay marriage, health care and housing discrimination, among others.
"This term, I'd expect a return to the norm, in which the right side of the court wins the majority, but by no means all of the cases," said Georgetown University law school's Irv Gornstein.
One reason for the confidence is that, as Supreme Court lawyer John Elwood said: "This is a term of sequels." Affirmative action and union fees have been at the court in recent terms and the justices' positions are more or less known.
The larger question is whether there are majorities for major rulings that, for example, would all but outlaw the use of race in admissions or declare that workers' free-speech rights preclude unions from collecting any money from non-members. Both cases also could produce narrower outcomes that would be less damaging to affirmative action and unions.
No single case before the justices in the new term holds the significance of the court's 5-4 decision in June that extended the right to marriage to gay and lesbian couples nationwide.
But the author of that opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy, probably will play a similarly decisive role in the most important cases to be heard by the court. "On issue after issue, Kennedy provides the deciding vote," said conservative commentator Ed Whelan, no fan of Kennedy.
Conservative ire over some Kennedy opinions is almost routine. But Chief Justice John Roberts, who marked his 10th anniversary on the court this year, also has faced intense criticism from conservative quarters, mainly for his two votes in favor of the Obama health care overhaul. In a Republican presidential debate last month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called Roberts' appointment to the court a mistake. Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hesitated when asked whether he agreed with Cruz. Bush's brother, President George W. Bush, nominated Roberts in 2005.
Former Attorney General Edwin Meese and 68 prominent conservatives issued a memo Friday that mentions Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as the kind of justices the next Republican president should fight for. There was no mention of Roberts.
Alito alluded to tension among the justices in a speech at the University of Kentucky last month. By late June, "We tend to be kind of angry with each other," Alito said.
Some noteworthy cases the Supreme Court will hear in its new term that begins Monday:
-Affirmative action: In a case being heard for the second time, a white Texan who was rejected by the University of Texas is challenging the school's use of race among a range of factors in filling roughly one-quarter of incoming freshman classes. (Most slots are given to Texans who graduate in the top 10 percent or so of their high-school classes.)
-Union fees: Labor unions representing government workers square off with opponents over whether the unions can collect mandatory fees from those who choose not to join. Unions argue they should be able to collect fees since all workers benefit from collective bargaining between the unions and governments.
-One person, one vote: Two cases explore how states draw legislative districts to comply with the constitutional requirement of equal representation. A Texas case tests whether states must count all people, or just eligible voters, in drawing electoral districts, pitting rural communities against urban areas where immigrants who are ineligible to vote tend to congregate. An Arizona case could turn on whether the justices conclude that an independent redistricting commission showed a partisan preference in drawing electoral boundaries.
-Juvenile life without parole: A Louisiana inmate in prison since 1963 wants the justices to rule that their 2012 decision outlawing mandatory life sentences with no chance of release for young killers also should apply to past cases.
-Disqualifying black potential jurors: A black death-row inmate from Georgia says notes from the prosecutor show he excluded all four black potential jurors and purposely seated an all-white jury in this case.
-Judicially imposed death sentence: Another death penalty case, this one from Florida, questions whether judges, rather than juries, can impose a death sentence, especially when the jury is not unanimous in recommending death.
-Class-action lawsuits: Business interests are hoping the court will use two cases to further rein in costly class-action lawsuits. In one of the cases, Tyson Foods Inc. wants the justices to overturn a $5.8 million judgment for failing to pay 3,000 employees at a pork processing plant for time they spend putting on and taking off gear to protect them from sharp knives.
-Consumer protections: Internet search engine Spokeo is trying to stop a lawsuit over inaccurate information it published about a Virginia man, arguing that the errors were flattering or, at worst, harmless.
-Electricity pricing: The Obama administration is defending a regulation that makes utilities pay consumers who use less energy during times of peak demand. Environmental groups call it a low-cost way to reduce pollution. But a lower court sided with the utility industry and ruled that the practice intrudes on state power over retail customers.
-Veterans contracts: A Virginia company owned by a disabled Army veteran claims the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is not doing enough to comply with a federal law aimed at increasing the number of government contracts awarded to small businesses owned by disabled veterans.