Supreme Court Begins New Term After Unusual Start

The U.S. Park Service has been forced to cover a 5-foot cross that had been standing in one form or another in the Mojave National Preserve in California for 70 years as a monument to fallen soldiers during World War I.

In 2003, a federal court ruled that the cross, because it stood on public land, violated the Constitution's ban on a government preference for one religion over another.

Congress attempted to remedy the situation by transferring the land to private ownership. Now, the court will explore whether Congress's action solved the constitutional violation even though the monument is still considered a national memorial. The court will also consider whether the man behind the suit, a retired Park Service employee, has the right -- in legalese called "standing" -- to bring the suit.

Life Sentence for Juveniles

Four years after finding it unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on juveniles, the Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether a minor can receive a sentence of life without parole.

At issue are the cases of Terrance Jamar Graham and Joe Harris Sullivan. At 16 years old, Graham was sentenced to life after violating probation for a 2003 armed robbery attempt. Sullivan was convicted of raping and robbing a 72-year-old woman when he was 13. Because the cases have varying circumstances, the court could rule in a way that would result in separate outcomes.

Right to Bear Arms

This week the court announced it would hear a case that could overturn state and local gun laws across the country. Chicago residents are challenging the constitutionality of the city's handgun laws. The court ruled in June 2008 in favor of the right of an individual to bear arms but left open the question of how that would apply to state laws.

Antitrust Law

For 20 years, a small family-owned hatmaker sold stocking caps with a National Football League logo. Then, the NFL decided all its licensing for head gear would go to sports giant Reebok.

The hatmaker sued, and the court will now decide whether the NFL can be considered a "single entity" immune from anti-trust lawsuits. A broad ruling for the NFL could mean major changes in the contracting of franchises, television restrictions, salary caps and player drafts.

Other interesting cases on the docket include issues relating to ineffective legal counsel, property rights, separation of powers, Miranda warnings and patent law.

Possible Cert Grants

Throughout the first half of the term, the justices will continue to add cases.

One case under the court's consideration involves an appeal by the Obama administration regarding the government's decision to withhold possibly hundreds of pictures of prisoner abuse by the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency as exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

Retirement Rumors

Again this term, the retirement rumors will continue to swirl as court watchers speculate on when Obama will get another chance to appoint a new justice.

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