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US Supreme Court Opens New Term

  • VOA News

The U.S. Supreme Court building, Oct. 5, 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court building, Oct. 5, 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun a new term with several contentious cases on the docket, including ones involving affirmative action, abortion and teacher's unions.

The nine justices took to the bench for the first time Monday since high-profile rulings in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and rejected a challenge to President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

The term's first oral arguments Monday were about a low-profile liability case involving an American woman who lost her legs trying to board a train in Austria. At issue is whether the woman can sue the state-owned Austrian railway in U.S. courts because she bought her ticket in the United States.

The court also rejected hundreds of appeals that had piled up over the summer, including one that the U.S. government says will allow executives who engage in insider trading to go unpunished. The court also declined to hear a challenge about Major League Baseball's longstanding exemption from antitrust laws.

The justices will add more cases in the coming months for the current term, which ends in June.

Already on the docket is a conservative challenge to affirmative action at the University of Texas. It questions the constitutionality of using race as one of the various factors in the college admissions process.

The justices also have agreed to hear a challenge by abortion providers to Republican-backed abortion restrictions in Texas. The challengers say the current restrictions are more focused on shutting down clinics than on ensuring women's health.

In addition, the justices will rule in a case involving California teachers, about whether labor unions in the public sector can require employees to pay collective bargaining fees even if they do not share the union's views.

This Supreme Court term will play out as the U.S. presidential race heats up, with the candidates likely fielding questions about the prospects of replacing justices who might retire in the next few years.

Five of the court's justices were appointed by Republican presidents and four by Democrats, with 79-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy often making the pivotal vote between the court's liberal and conservative sides.

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