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US Supreme Court Takes on 38 Cases in New Term

The U.S. Supreme Court began its new term this week with a docket of 38 cases, 17 of which are related to business. VOA's Peter Fedynsky looks at the most prominent cases, including one about abortion, a politically divisive social issue in the United States.

The high court will decide a federal law that bans a procedure, which proponents refer to as a partial birth abortion, and proponents call a late-term abortion. Lower courts declared the law unconstitutional, because it does not recognize medical emergencies.

Ilene Jaroslaw, a New York attorney, had a late-term or partial birth abortion due to genetic defects. "Part of the brain was missing, part of the skull was missing and this baby had a very grim prognosis."

The procedure the Bush administration considers immoral. Constitutional lawyer Jay Sekulow agrees. "It is a gruesome procedure."

Observers say two new conservative members of the nine-member court could tip the balance to limit a woman's right to an abortion. Roger Evens is a pro-choice activist. "The most important principle at stake here is protecting the relationship between physicians and their patients from intrusion by politicians."

The Supreme Court is also reviewing a lower court ruling, which ordered cigarette maker Philip Morris to pay nearly $80 million in punitive damages to the family of a deceased smoker in Oregon. Business interests are seeking limits on such damages.

Another business issue includes a case in which environmentalists are challenging a lower court decision that would allow an energy company to continue using old, refitted electric generators without expensive pollution control equipment.

In a social issue, school boards in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky are seeking to achieve racial integration by taking race into account when limiting the choice students have of which schools they may attend.

The Supreme Court will be in session through June 2007.