Outlined below are some key cases the Supreme Court is scheduled to tackle in its 2013-14 term, which starts Monday.
Forty-eight appeals are currently on the docket. As many as three dozen more are expected to be added in coming months. The caseload for the term is usually settled by February, with the term effectively ending in late June.
Other important appeals that may yet be added cover such issues as gun rights, abortion regulation, cell phone privacy, as well as further litigation over President Barack Obama's health care reform law.
Cases on the court's docket
Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
At issue: Whether a state violates the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public-university admission decisions.
The case: Michigan's Proposition 2 was approved by voters seven years ago with 58 percent support. A federal appeals court later tossed the initiative, concluding it "distorts the political process and imposes a burden based on race that violates" the federal Constitution.
The arguments: The high court this past term considered a similar case from the University of Texas, which in some ways present mirror issues. A white student said a college's existing affirmative action policy violated her "equal protection" rights, while civil rights supporters of such programs claim Michigan's ban also has the same effect. The high court in the Texas petition made it harder to use affirmative action in the future, while not totally eliminating its use.
The impact: The court's most closely watched current case this term, it raises a new thorny, unresolved questions over race and remedies. Justice Kagan will not hear this case, leaving the possibility of a 4-4 high court tie and no important precedent being established.
McCutcheon v. FEC
At issue: Constitutionality of a two-year ceiling on individual campaign donations to federal candidates and political committees.
The case: The appeal comes from Alabama businessman and donor Shaun McCutcheon, supported in court by the Republican National Committee.
The arguments: They object to a 1970s-era law restricting someone from giving no more than $48,600 to federal candidates, and $74,600 to political action committees, during a two-year election cycle. McCutcheon says he has a constitutional right to donate over that amount to as many candidates as he wants, so long as no one candidate gets more than the current $2600 limit. But the law's supporters worry millions of dollars could easily be funneled by a single well-heeled donor to his or her party and candidates of choice, reviving a system of "legalized bribery."
The impact: A ruling by spring could have immediate impact on the mid-term elections, and further erode congressional efforts to regulate aggregate federal campaign money limits.
CHURCH & STATE
Town of Greece, New York, v. Galloway
At issue: Public prayer in town meetings.
The case: The Town Board of this Rochester suburb had long opened its monthly public sessions with individual prayers. The policy was challenged because virtually all of those invited to offer prayers were Christians, so the board for a time asked a few others-- including a Wiccan, Baha'i leader, and Jewish lay person-- to offer invocations. But local citizens Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens nevertheless sued.
The arguments: A federal appeals court found the practice an unconstitutional mix of church and state, and that local officials were not diligent enough seeking more diverse voices from other faiths. But local officials call it highly inclusive, and say civic prayers have long been permitted nationwide.
The impact: Few issues draw as much controversy as those approaching the intersection of faith and the public arena. The Supreme Court has taken a case-by-case approach to Establishment Clause appeals, but generally upholds the discretion of government bodies to acknowledge America's religious heritage-- whether in Christmas displays, Ten Commandment monuments, or legislative prayers.
NLRB v. Noel Canning
At issue: The validity of President Obama's recess appointments to a federal agency.