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US Supreme Court Opens New Term


The U.S. Supreme Court opens its annual term Monday, October 1 and will consider a number of legal challenges to the power of the president and the power of Congress. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.

Two cases of international interest highlight the new Supreme Court term.

The high court will consider whether Congress exceeded its constitutional authority when it set the rules for military commissions to try suspected terrorists being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a second case, the nine justices will examine whether the president has the power to compel state courts to uphold judgments rendered by the International Court of Justice.

Other major cases scheduled for argument this term include a dispute over how political parties choose their candidates and a challenge to a law in Indiana requiring citizens to produce photo identification before being allowed to vote.

The court will also decide whether the use of lethal injections in death penalty cases violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Legal observers will continue to watch the two newest members of the Supreme Court appointed by President Bush, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Roberts and Alito have solidified a five-member conservative majority on the nine-member court, according to George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley.

These are young justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, and they have shown that they have got a stable five justice majority," he says.

Liberal activists have criticized the court's conservative shift and vow to make it an issue in next year's presidential and congressional elections.

"We think the Supreme Court's future is the most important issue facing America in 2008 in these elections," says longtime liberal judicial activist Ralph Neas.

Conservatives are pleased with the Roberts court so far, but want to see more decisions go their way before they reach a final verdict.

"I think it is really too early to tell exactly what is going to happen with this court," says Naomi Rao, who teaches law at George Mason University in Virginia.

Most court watchers continue to see longtime centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy as the critical vote on the court. Kennedy often provides the deciding vote in high court decisions.

But George Washington University legal expert Jeffrey Rosen says a sharp conservative turn by the court could provoke a negative public reaction.

"If the Roberts court continues down this path and starts striking down laws that Americans do care intensely about, such as environmental laws and health and safety laws, it could indeed provoke a backlash of national proportions," he said.

Legal and political experts say the president's Supreme Court appointments will have a lasting impact on the law and on Mr. Bush's political legacy.

"He changed the Supreme Court," says, law professor Jonathan Turley. "The court changed the law and that changed the country. That is a legacy by any definition of the term."

The high court will hear oral arguments over the next few months, with most decisions expected between January and June of next year.

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