Highlights of some high-profile cases that the Supreme Court will decide before finishing its work for the summer:
— Voting rights: At stake is the federal government’s authority to prevent discriminatory voting changes through a provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act. This section forces all or parts of 16 states, many in the South, to submit proposed election changes to the Justice Department. In 2006, Congress extended the provision, first enacted in 1965, for 25 more years. The local Texas governing authority challenging the law says the safeguard once may have been needed to root out discrimination, but no longer can be justified in 2009, especially with an African-American president.
— Reverse discrimination: White firefighters in New Haven, Conn., claim they were discriminated against when the city tossed out the results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough. The city says it acted because it might have been vulnerable to claims that the exam had a “disparate impact” on minorities in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The white firefighters said the decision violated the same law’s prohibition on intentional discrimination.
— Student strip search: A federal appeals court determined that an Arizona school official went too far by ordering a strip search of a 13-year-old eighth-grade girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen. The justices appeared swayed by the argument of the school’s lawyer against tying the hands of administrators who must be able search for drugs and weapons on school grounds.
— Judicial ethics: The case from West Virginia tests when judges must step aside from disputes that involve people who backed their election. West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin rejected pleas to excuse himself from a lawsuit involving a booster of his 2004 election campaign and cast the deciding vote in overturning a verdict, now more than $82 million with interest, against his supporter’s company.
— Investigating lending discrimination: A fight between the states and the federal government over who gets to investigate national banks. The Obama administration says federal law prohibits states from looking at the lending practices of those banks, even under state anti-discrimination laws. Federal courts have so far blocked an investigation begun by New York, which is backed by the other 49 states, of whether minorities were being charged higher interest rates on home mortgage loans by national banks with branches in New York.
— DNA testing: In a case from Alaska, the justices are examining whether, long after a conviction, defendants have a constitutional right to test genetic evidence that could be used to exonerate them. Alaska is one of a handful of states without a state law providing for DNA testing, which has been used to exonerate more than 200 people wrongly convicted of violent crimes.
— Detainee lawsuit: A Pakistani Muslim sued former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and others over mistreatment he suffered in federal custody after being rounded up in a post-Sept. 11 sweep. The court will decide if high-ranking officials such as Ashcroft and Mueller can be sued when lower-level government workers allegedly violate people’s civil rights.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.