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Abortion, Race and Business Law on Supreme Court’s New Docket

The U.S. Supreme Court began its next term Monday with cases on late-term abortions, the use of race in school admissions, patent law and pollution control. Legal experts discuss the cases and the issues that will define the new term.

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    The first Monday in October traditionally is the first day of the Supreme Court term. And with the court's newest members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, in place at the outset, this term promises to give a clearer idea of how their additions will shape the court.

    Here to discuss the term ahead are: NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal; Walter Dellinger, Duke Law School professor and former acting solicitor general under President Clinton; and Douglas Kmiec, professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law.

    And welcome to you all.

    Marcia, are we going to see some real blockbusters this term?

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Well, Margaret, I'm not sure if any of these cases will achieve the status of "blockbuster" that last term's decision on the president's military commissions did, but I do think that there are four types of cases on the docket thus far for very significant types of cases that, as you said, will reveal a lot about the views of the new justices, the importance of Justice Anthony Kennedy as the new center of the court, and the direction of the court in coming years.

    And those four cases involve: abortion; and race; a new issue of global warming; and an old issue, the amount of money that juries can award to punish someone for their very bad conduct.


    So abortion, give us a quick thumbnail sketch of those cases and what's really at stake?


    The Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of a law Congress enacted in 2003 that bans a second-trimester surgical procedure that critics call "partial-birth abortion." The court in 2000 actually struck down a very similar law, a state law, because it lacked an exception to protect the health of the woman. This federal law does not have the exception.

    The twist here, legal twist here is that Congress made findings that the exception is not needed. Will the chief justice and Justice Alito stand by the 2000 precedent? Or will they defer to Congress's findings?