Court Opens New Term With 48 Cases, 10/14/03
The Supreme Court has begun a new session. In its 214th term since it was founded in 1789, the judges will consider the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the rights of people who use wheelchairs and how politicians fund their campaigns.
There are 48 cases scheduled, and the court can hear more if four or more of the nine Supreme Court justices agree that the case is important enough for the highest court in the country.
Cases the court will hear this term
One case that is scheduled for opening arguments in December is Locke v. Davey, which considers the state of Washington's refusal to allow a college theology major to receive a state-sponsored college scholarship. The case is similar to a one argued two terms ago in which the court ruled in favor of a family who wanted to use school vouchers -- paid for by the government -- to pay for a parochial or private school.
A second case challenges a part of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The act requires states to give people with disabilities adequate access to public services and programs. In the case, Tennessee v. Lane, which is scheduled for January, the state of Tennessee will try to beat a lawsuit brought against it by a disabled man, who was asked to get out of his wheelchair and crawl up two flights of stairs in order to make a court appearance.
On Tuesday, the court also decided to hear a case from California that barred the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it included the phrase "under God."
The California court said the phrase violated the constitutional separation of church and state doctrine. The Supreme Court will now decided whether to uphold that law or overturn it as the president and the Senate have called for.
The most high-profile case this season will probably be the court's ruling on the constitutionality of a 2002 campaign finance law, also known as the McCain-Feingold law after the senators who sponsored it, Republican John McCain from Arizona and Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the case, which officially opened last term but will be ruled on this term, the court will focus on two aspects of the law: The banning of certain contributions to national political parties, also called "soft money" contributions; and the strict limits put on TV and radio ads paid for by corporations or unions before an election. A date for a decision in this case has not been announced.
In addition to the 48 cases the court will hear between now and January, the nine justices must also choose whether to admit any of the more than 7,000 other requests, known as "writs of certiorari," submitted to them each year. This process of accepting a case is called a "writ of cert." The judges have room for about 30 additional cases between February and the close of the term in June 2004.
Whether the court does decide to take a case could have a major impact on the case and its participants. Because the Supreme Court is the ultimate appeals court, if the justices decided not to hear it, the ruling of the lower court stands and the losers have to accept the verdict.
In one example of the Court being the final word, on Tuesday, the Court ruled in favor of state laws allowing the use of medical marijuana for HIV and cancer patients. The court refused to consider a request by White House officials to punish doctors who prescribed the drug.
Among the pending cases are several based on the government's arrest and detention policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In many of the cases, civil rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), will argue that policies adopted by the government, particularly the Justice Department, violate the civil rights of detainees and Muslim Americans.
The court will also decide whether to hear a case submitted by White House officials, in which a federal court barred the reading of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it included the phrase "under God."
So far in the last week, the court has thrown out several cases, some filed by World War II veterans who were forced to be slaves while they were prisoners of war (POWs) in Japan. The court chose not to hear those cases because it said a treaty between the United States and Japan, signed after the war, prevents POWs from either side from seeking damages, such as payment, in court.
Opening day tradition
During the opening-day ceremony Oct. 6, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington to protest past court decisions on abortion and school prayer.