A look at some of the noteworthy cases the Supreme Court will hear this term, which begins Monday:
Mistaken traffic stop: A broken brake light led a North Carolina police officer to pull over a car in which cocaine was later found. Turns out, the state requires only one functioning brake light. The court is weighing a case about whether a defendant’s constitutional protection against unreasonable searches was violated because of the officer’s mistaken understanding of the law.
Prison beards: An Arkansas inmate is challenging a prison policy that prevents him from growing a short beard in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs. Prison officials say the policy prevents inmates from concealing contraband or quickly changing their appearance in an escape.
Teeth whitening: The North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners is challenging a Federal Trade Commission order that said the dentist-filled board is trying to kill off competition from day spas and tanning booths that offer teeth-whitening.
Dishonest juror: Claims that a juror’s comments during trial deliberations over a South Dakota traffic accident raise questions about her impartiality and possibly could result in a new trial.
Born in Jerusalem: The case of an American born in Jerusalem who wants his passport to list his birthplace as Israel underlies a major dispute between Congress and the president, with Middle Eastern politics as the backdrop. The United States has never recognized any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, believing the city’s status should be resolved in peace negotiations. The administration says a 2002 law passed by Congress allowing Israel to be listed as the birthplace of Jerusalem-born Americans would in essence be seen as a U.S. endorsement of Israeli control of the city.
Alabama redistricting: Democrats and black lawmakers contend that Republican leaders in Alabama drew a new legislative map that illegally packed black voters into too few voting districts to limit minority political power. Republicans say they complied with the law by keeping the same number of districts in which black voters could elect candidates of their choice.
Facebook threats: A Pennsylvania man challenges his conviction for making threats on Facebook. He says his online rants about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a school and slitting an FBI agent’s throat were simply rap lyrics, and that he didn’t mean to threaten anyone.
Pregnancy discrimination: A United Parcel Service employee says the company failed to accommodate her pregnancy when it refused to give her light-duty work. But UPS contends its policies are “pregnancy-neutral,” allowing light-duty assignments only in cases where employees are injured on the job or have certain medical conditions.
Housing discrimination: For the third time, the court has agreed to hear a challenge from Texas to an important tool the government is increasingly using to fight discrimination in housing. Two earlier cases settled before the justices could weigh in on the legality of determining discrimination from the results of a policy that disproportionately affects minorities, rather than by showing any intent to discriminate.
Religious discrimination: Retailer Abercrombie and Fitch is defending its denial of a job to a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf by arguing that she did not say during her interview that she wears the hijab for religious reasons.
Cases the justices could decide to hear before the term ends in late June:
Gay marriage: Both sides want the justices to settle the question of whether same-sex couples have the same right to marry as heterosexuals under the Constitution. A court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage would grant marriage rights to same-sex couples in all 50 states, up from 19 states and the District of Columbia. A decision in favor of state marriage bans would allow states to continue setting the rules on whether to allow same-sex couples to wed.
Abortion: Several states have passed laws in recent years aimed at limiting abortion by imposing hospital admitting privilege requirements on doctors who perform abortions, forcing abortion clinic facilities to meet tougher standards and preventing doctors from prescribing pills for medical abortions later in a pregnancy and at a lower dose. The court could take one or more cases that are winding through the courts.
Voting disputes: Identification requirements and limits on early voting are among state voting laws that could make their way to the Supreme Court this term. The court already has jumped preliminarily into a case over early voting in Ohio and seems likely to want a full-blown review. But a decision on hearing that case could come late enough in the term to push back the argument and decision to the following term that begins a year from now.
Contraception: The next fight over the new health care law’s requirement that contraception be offered to women among a range of preventive services at no extra cost concerns the responsibilities of religious not-for-profit universities, hospitals and other institutions. The Obama administration already allows those organizations to shift responsibility for coverage to their insurers, but the groups say that so-called accommodation still is a burden on their religious consciences. In June, the justices said family-owned corporations with religious objections do not have to pay for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans.
Health care subsidies: Legal challenges to the health care law continue in several states that would drastically reduce the number of Americans eligible for subsidies to make health insurance affordable. One appeal of a court ruling denying a challenge to the subsidies already is pending at the Supreme Court, although the pace of the other cases suggests the justices are more likely to wait, if they even are willing to undertake another high-stakes fight over the health care law.
Affirmative action: The court could get another crack at the University of Texas admissions policy that takes race into account among many factors in filling some seats in entering freshmen classes. Lower courts upheld the Texas policy following a Supreme Court decision in 2013 that ordered a new review. The case currently is being appealed to the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.