Abortion, birth control, race top Supreme Court’s agenda

The justices are returning to the bench on Monday for the start of their new term and their first public appearance together since a number of high-profile decisions in June that displayed passionate, sometimes barbed, disagreements and suggested some bruised feelings among the nine judges.


The three-month break probably is a good thing, Justice Samuel Alito noted in a speech at the University of Kentucky last month. By late June, “We tend to be kind of angry with each other,” Alito said.


No single case before the justices in the new term holds the significance of the court’s 5-4 decision in June that extended the right to marriage to gay and lesbian couples nationwide.


But the author of that opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy, probably will play a similarly decisive role in the most important cases to be heard by the court. “On issue after issue, Kennedy provides the deciding vote,” said conservative commentator Ed Whelan, no fan of Kennedy.


The court’s lineup already includes, or likely will:


—Regulation of abortion clinics in Texas that could leave large parts of the second-most populous state without any abortion providers.


—Yet another battle over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, involving the religious rights of faith-affiliated colleges, hospitals and charities and the provision of no-cost birth control to women covered by those groups’ health plans.


—Another round from the University of Texas over the consideration of race, among many factors, in college admissions.


—A challenge over drawing electoral districts in Texas that could affect representation of immigrant-heavy urban areas.


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