The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to intervene in a Senate race that could tip the balance of power in Washington. The ruling is likely to benefit opposition Democrats, who are desperate to maintain their one-seat majority in the U.S. Senate in the November congressional elections.

The high court declined an appeal from Republicans, who wanted to prevent Democrats from switching candidates in the crucial Senate election in New Jersey.

Former Senator Frank Lautenberg has stepped in to take the place of scandal-plagued Senator Robert Torricelli. Senator Torricelli abandoned his re-election campaign last week, after polls indicated he was badly trailing Republican candidate Doug Forrester. New polls indicate Democrat Lautenberg now has a slight lead in the race, one of 34 Senate contests and 435 House races that will be decided on November 5.

National Democrats believe that winning the New Jersey race is crucial to their hopes of retaining Senate control, and acting as a check on President Bush. Republicans control the House of Representatives.

The ruling on the New Jersey race came on the first day of the Supreme Court's new term. The high court is expected to deal with a wide range of controversial cases this year, including perhaps the first legal challenges to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism tactics at home.

Legal experts predict that there is a good chance that the nine Supreme Court justices will have to deal with several terrorism-related issues in the months ahead. These include the administration's practice of holding secret deportation hearings for immigrants linked to suspected terrorists and the indefinite detention of some U-S citizens, deemed by President Bush to be unlawful enemy combatants in the war on terrorism.