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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the New Term, High Stakes for the High Court

Following a blockbuster term involving guns, Guantanamo Bay and the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court opens its doors to a new term with less drama, more cases initially and many challenges having potentially major implications for business, the environment, injured consumers, job bias victims and law enforcement.

If the docket thus far appears to lack possible landmark cases, the term's drama level could change quickly after the justices hold their summer conference meeting on Sept. 29 in which they generally add cases from more than a thousand filed during the summer months. They also continue to add cases to the term's argument docket until about mid-January.

One case likely to raise the stakes considerably, if granted review, is perhaps the most significant voting rights case in decades -- Northwest Austin Municipal District Number One v. Mukasey, No. 08-322. The case challenges Congress' recent reauthorization of Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the heart of the landmark law that changed the voting landscape in America.

The justices will return in the new term to several areas of apparent strong, ongoing interest:

• Business is seeking federal pre-emption of state personal injury suits in the pharmaceutical drug and tobacco arenas.

• Employees and employers square off in two job bias cases, one involving retaliation and the other pregnancy leave and retirement credit.

• Sexual harassment in schools draws the justices into the interplay of two major discrimination statutes.

• And an unusually large number of environmental cases -- four -- will be argued, ranging from Navy sonar and its effect on marine mammals to the use of cost-benefit analysis in setting environmental standards. [Mark Godsey]

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