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Preview of the October 2010 Term

Two other issues which are certainly headed to the high court, but may not reach them this coming Term, are challenges to the health care program Congress recently enacted, as well as the federal government's challenge to an Arizona law authorizing police to ask anyone they stop to show papers proving they are either citizens or in the United States legally. The latter case may reach the Court earlier, because there are a number of suits already filed in state and district courts attacking one or more provisions of the health bill. The Court will want to see how the different circuits handle the matter before accepting any cases on appeal. The Arizona law, on the other hand, looks as if it is on a fast track in the federal judiciary.

Cases which the Court has already accepted for argument in the October 2010 Term include:

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth—a case that asks the justices to decide whether federal laws regulating vaccines pre-empt state tort law claims of vaccine design defects.  Although the case does not directly involve a medicine for autism, there are more than 5,000 cases currently in state court alleging defects in various autism-related vaccines.  This will be the second time in recent years Wyeth will be in the high court in a pre-emption case; the drug firm lost last time around.

Thompson v. North American Stainless—will decide whether limits exist on a federal anti-retaliation ban.  The law does not allow retaliation against employees who file discrimination claims, but Eric Thompson was fired by North American Stainless after his fiancée, who also worked there, filed a complaint. Lower courts threw out Thompson's suit, but the Obama administration urged the high court to hear it, believing the lower courts wrong. Mayo Foundation v. United States—will determine whether student doctors are students or employees when it comes to collecting social security taxes.  The government says they are employees, and the Mayo Foundation says they are students.

Snyder v. Phelps—will be one of the most emotional as well as difficult cases facing the Court next Term. Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was killed in Iraq.  His funeral was picketed by member of the small Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, whose minister, Fred W. Phelps, Sr., says the death of U.S. soldiers are God's retribution for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.  So far Phelps and his followers have staged such protests at the funerals of some 200 American servicemen killed in the war. Snyder's family is suing Phelps for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and have won a jury award of $10 million.  Phelps is claiming a First Amendment right to free speech. So far both Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell, as well as 42 members of the Senate have signed on to an amicus brief in Albert Snyder's behalf, and representatives of 48 states and the District of Columbia are also backing him.

Skinner v. Switzer—will decide whether a Texas death row inmate should have access to evidence for DNA testing he says could clear him of three murders. Hank Skinner was only an hour away from execution when the Court granted a stay to hear his case.

Simmons v. Galman—in this case the Court has asked the Obama administration what its views are on whether laws that bar felons from voting violate the federal Voting Rights Act.  Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote during their imprisonment.  The other states all bar voting during incarceration, and then have varying rules regarding when or if a convicted felon can regain the suffrage.

Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association—is a clash between free speech rights and laws protecting children. At issue is a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the state law on the grounds that it violated the minors' constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Connick v. Thompson—will bring the issue of prosecutorial immunity back to the Court (it dismissed a case this past Term after the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement). The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court verdict that awarded accused murderer John Thompson $14 million for the district attorney's failure to train its lawyers about the so-called Brady violations, a failure that led to his wrongful conviction and death sentence in 1985.

Flores-Villa v. United States—involves the determination of U.S. citizenship.  One of Ruben Flores-Villar's parents is an American citizen, but it is his father and not his mother. The Supreme Court will for the first time examine a law regarding children born to American parents outside of the U.S. The law makes it easier for children whose mothers are citizens to become citizens themselves. The challenge is on the basis of gender discrimination.

Sossamon v. Texas—involves the claim of a prisoner who was denied participation in worship services and access to a room with symbols and furnishings that have a special significance to his Christian beliefs.

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