Supreme Court Preview: Affirmative Action, Gay Marriage, Altered Seeds

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ABCNEWS.com

It's been the quiet before the storm on the Supreme Court beat these last few days. The Supreme Court takes the bench again next Tuesday and is poised for a major decision on affirmative action, as well as block buster arguments on the Voting Rights Act in February and gay marriage in March.

Here's look at some key decisions and interesting cases coming up in the next few weeks.

DECISIONS:As early as Tuesday, Feb. 19 we could have decisions.

Affirmative Action:

It's probably a bit early, but we could get this big case: A major affirmative action case that could severely limit the use of race in admissions programs at public universities and colleges. All eyes will be on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has said that diversity is a compelling government interest, but is seen as a swing vote on the issue. Only eight justices will participate in the case as Justice Elena Kagan is recused because of her role in the case at her previous job as solicitor general.

Government Secrecy:

Lawyers, journalists and human rights groups want to be able to challenge the constitutionality of a secret government program that expands the authority of federal officials to conduct secret electronic surveillance of non-United States citizens located outside the United States. But first, the Supreme Court will decide whether the groups have the legal right to bring the case.

Human Rights:

The court will rule on whether human rights groups can hold corporations liable in the U.S. for alleged violations of international law committed abroad. The case is being closely watched by big business.

Dog Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment:

Some day the court will be asked about the search and seizure implications of highly technical law enforcement devices. Not in this case. Instead, the justices will consider whether the sniff of a police dog on the front porch of a person's home constitutes a search and requires a warrant.

UPCOMING ARGUMENTS:

Genetically Altered Seeds:

Feb. 19 Bowman v. Monsanto Co. An Indiana farmer is fighting Monsanto in a major case regarding patents of genetically modified food. In this case it is a soy bean seed that is immune to the weed killer Roundup.

DNA Maryland v. King Feb 26:

The court will hear arguments in a case that pits the needs of law enforcement against the privacy rights of those who have been arrested for a crime. While states allow the collection of DNA for those convicted of a crime, the lower courts have split on whether states can collect DNA without a warrant from people who have only been arrested. The federal government and 28 states allow the collection of DNA from arrestees.

Voting Rights Feb 27:

At issue is a key section of the historic Voting Rights Act—Section 5-- that requires states and jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have any changes in voting procedures pre-approved by federal officials in Washington. The court agreed to hear the case just days after the last election. Opponents of the law say Congress was wrong in 2006 to extend Section 5 for 25 more years.

PROP 8—March 26:

Opponents of California's Proposition 8 say the controversial ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in California is unconstitutional.

DOMA—March 27:

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies federal benefits to couples who are legally married in their state. Challengers say it is unconstitutional, and the Obama administration agrees.

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