The Supreme Court began its new term on Oct. 7, turning away hundreds of appeals. The justices took the bench just past 10 a.m. on the first Monday in October, even as much of the rest of the government was coping with a partial shutdown.
Among the appeals denied was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s request to review an appeals court ruling that threw out the state’s ban on oral and anal sex. Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor, said the sodomy ban should remain when applied to sex between a minor and an adult.
The new term may be short on the sort of high-profile battles over health care and gay marriage that marked the past two years, but the court has taken cases on campaign contributions, housing discrimination, government-sanctioned prayer and the president’s recess appointments. Abortion, contraceptive coverage under the new health care law and cellphone privacy also may find their way onto the court’s calendar.
Several of those cases ask the court to overrule prior decisions – bold action in an institution that relies on the power of precedent.
“There are an unusual number of cases going right to hot-button cultural issues and aggressive briefing on the conservative side asking precedents to be overruled,” said Georgetown University law professor Pamela Harris, who served in the Justice Department.
The campaign finance argument on Oct. 8 was the first major case on the calendar. The 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums in support of or opposition to candidates. The new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, challenges the overall limits on what an individual may give to candidates, political parties and political action committees in a two-year federal election cycle.
On the docket
• Greece, N.Y., is asking the Court to uphold its practice of opening town council meetings with a prayer. An appeals court ruled the invocations violate the First Amendment.
• Michigan is fighting to keep a constitutional amendment that bans the use of racial preferences in education. An appeals court ruled the ban is discriminatory.
• Massachusetts is defending a law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone at abortion clinics to limit protesters’ ability to interact with patients.
Several cases challenging constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage and state law prohibiting businesses from anti-gay discrimination could reach the Court. So could a challenge to California’s law barring the use of “ex-gay” therapy on minors.