U.S. Supreme Court Back in Session with Big Workload

October 06, 2008 05:14 PM
by Emily Coakley
The high court’s term started Monday with a full docket, though some say this fall’s cases are less momentous than those in previous terms.

Justices Hearing Arguments for Next Three Months

The court has a wide variety of cases on its calendar this year, including questions about retirement benefits, profanity on television, police searches and religious symbols.

The Salt Lake Tribune has a brief overview of some of the higher-profile cases, such as Winter vs. Natural Resources. This case pits the U.S. Navy, who says certain military exercises using sonar are essential for natural security, against environmentalists who say sonar harms whales and other sea creatures.

National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg also offers a court overview of a few of the biggest cases, including one involving pharmaceutical companies and state regulation.

Totenberg said the case centers on a musician in Vermont who received an injection of an antinausea drug made by pharmaceutical company Wyeth. The injection caused the woman to get gangrene, and part of her arm was amputated. Courts in Vermont said the company hadn’t done enough to warn people that the way the drug was injected has an increased risk of gangrene, Totenberg said. She added: “Wyeth is arguing that lawsuits like this one are barred, because the FDA approved its label. And for the first time, the federal agency is taking the side of the company.”

Opinion & Analysis: The size and significance of this year’s docket

According to the Legal Times, this year’s term could mark some interesting milestones, including deciding more cases than “it has in a decade,” and hearing more cases brought by law school clinics, which was “unheard of just four years ago,” Tony Mauro wrote.

But in an editorial the Los Angeles Times said this year’s cases “pale in significance” to the cases considered in the previous term, which addressed the right to bear arms, the death penalty for child rape and Guantanamo Bay prisoner rights.

“The importance of some of this term’s cases is also lessened because they involve not the meaning of the Constitution, on which the court has the final say, but the interpretation of federal statutes—which Congress can rewrite if it disagrees with the court’s understanding of its handiwork,” the editorial said.

Related Topic: The Troy Davis case

The SCOTUS Blog reports that the Supreme Court “took no action” on Davis’ appeal, but the news service Agence France-Presse reported that the court “refused to hear arguments” on the case.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Davis, who was sentenced to death after he allegedly killed an off-duty policeman, according to findingDulcinea.

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