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US Supreme Court Starts New Term

  • VOA News

FILE - Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington.

FILE - Detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington.

The U.S. government shutdown is not affecting the country's Supreme Court, which on Monday starts a new term that will include challenges to campaign donation limits, prayer at public meetings and limits on protests at abortion clinics.

Justices will hear arguments Tuesday in the campaign finance case, which challenges current law restricting the total amount of money individuals can give to candidates, parties and political action committees for each election.

The challenger says the law limits the number of candidates he can support, and is no longer necessary to prevent fraud. The government disagrees, saying he can support candidates in many other ways and that lifting the limits will open the door for new ways to influence politicians.

The court issued a major campaign finance ruling in 2010, saying that corporations and unions can spend an unlimited amount of money supporting or opposing candidates, as long as they were not coordinating those efforts with the candidates.

Recess appointments

In another case with political implications, the court will decide whether President Barack Obama violated the Constitution when he used recess appointments to fill spots on a labor board. An appeals court ruled in January that he did, and the administration is trying to overturn that ruling.

The decision could jeopardize hundreds of decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board since Obama appointed three new members in 2012, including some that have made it easier for unions to organize. The case has been seen as a test of the president's ability to bypass the Senate's role in confirming appointees.


Next month, the court will hear arguments in a case dealing with whether a town in New York state violated constitutional bans on government establishment of religion by allowing volunteers to say a prayer before town meetings.

The court will also consider a Massachusetts law that says anti-abortion protesters must stay at least 35 feet, or 10.67 meters, away from abortion clinics in order to limit their interaction with patients. It upheld a similar "buffer zone" law from the state of Colorado in 2000, but several new justices have joined the court since then.

The Supreme Court has nine justices who consider written and oral arguments by both sides in each case, as well as briefs submitted to the court by outside parties who think the decision will affect them. The justices then gather to vote in a private meeting and write opinions detailing their reasoning for how they ruled in the case. Those decisions are announced later in an open session.

The court begins a new term on the first Monday of October and issues the last of its rulings before going on recess at the end of June.