Kagan, justices start U.S. SC term

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Oct 4, 2010


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The United States Supreme Court begins its new term this week, with new Justice Elena Kagan one of three women now on the bench.

This is the first time the nine-judge panel has included three women at once.

The Court began its new term Monday, and several business cases are featured prominently on its docket. Kagan, who was confirmed in August, will sit out some 24 cases -- out of about 52 on the calendar -- due to her previous job as solicitor general.

As solicitor general under President Barack Obama, Kagan was involved in preparing some of the cases now being argued before the Court.

Kagan's absences create the potential for the eight remaining justices to split 4-4 in some cases.

While she is the new face on the Court, nearly everyone will be sitting in different seats starting this week.

The justices sit according to seniority, other than the chief justice at the center of the bench.

The retirement of John Paul Stevens, who had served longer than the others, means Chief Justice John Roberts now will be flanked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.

Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the Court last year, will sit at opposite ends of the bench.

On Monday, the justices were expected to start by denying many of the nearly 2,000 appeals that have piled up in recent months.

The Court also opens with a case questioning whether an individual filing for bankruptcy can deduct the ownership costs of a vehicle from his or her projected income, lessening the amount owed to creditors.

Here are some other key cases to watch, according to The Washington Post:

-On Tuesday, National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Nelson, 09-530. The case was brought by employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab at the California Institute of Technology. They objected to new NASA background investigations that included questions about treatment for illegal drug use and contacting references for any unfavorable information about applicants. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena sided with the employees, prompting the appeal.

-On Nov. 2, Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 09-400. The case, brought by a hospital technician who felt he was fired for his membership in the U.S. Army Reserve, could clarify when employers can be held liable for the discriminatory acts of employees. Vincent Staub says a supervisor intentionally scheduled him for shifts he would not be able to complete because the supervisor did not approve of his membership in the Reserve. Staub was fired, and when he sued the hospital, the trial court ruled in his favor, but an appellate court reversed that decision.

-On Nov. 9, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 09-893. This case was brought over sales tax levied on free cell phones. Possibly affected is the fine print at the bottom of phone, credit card and other consumer contracts. After a California appellate court invalidated an AT&T Mobility contract that barred customers from pursuing large-scale arbitration, the phone company appealed, arguing that federal law allows companies to enforce the terms of arbitration.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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