A day after a majority of justices attended Washington's traditional "red mass," to note the start of its new term, the full Supreme Court took the bench to begin the 2011 term today, the first Monday of October.
Looming over the start of the 2011 term is the question of when the justices might hear a challenge to the signature legislative achievement of the Obama administration: the health care law.
But the court is already set to hear an interesting range of other cases, including law enforcement's use of global positioning systems, the government's policy of indecency on the broadcast airwaves and the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses.
Lower courts are divided on the issue of whether the health care law's key provision—the individual mandate requiring individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty—is constitutional.
On Wednesday night the Obama administration asked the Court to review the case it lost in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Because the government is asking the Supreme Court to step in an address a major act of Congress that has divided the lower courts, the Justices are likely to take up the issue this term and decide it before the next election.
Collison: New Technology vs. Unreasonable Search and Seizure
In the court's most important Fourth Aendment case in a decade, the justices will weigh an individual's expectation of privacy against law enforcement's use of increasingly sophisticated technology to follow suspects on public property.
In 2008, Antoine Jones, who owned and managed a nightclub in Washington, D.C., was convicted on drug charges. Law enforcement used a variety of techniques to link Jones to other co-conspirators. One technique was a global positioning system, or GPS device, installed secretly without a valid warrant on a jeep used by Jones in order to track his movements by satellite.
An appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Jones' conviction, finding that the evidence obtained with the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, differentiated between a conventional 24-hour surveillance conducted by law enforcement on public streets and the GPS technology that tracked Jones' movements 24 hours a day for nearly a month.
"Here the police used the GPS device not to track Jones' movements from one place to another but rather to track Jones' movements 24 hours a day for 28 days as he moved among scores of places, thereby discovering the totality and pattern of his movements from place to place," Ginsburg wrote.
The judge said that the use of GPS is much more invasive than traditional surveillance.
"It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine," he wrote.