Finally, the Justices agreed to deliberate whether executing a mentally retarded prisoner is unconstitutional in Atkins v. Virginia (No. 00-8452). Supreme Court Preview (October Term 2001)

On September 25, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court returned to work from its summer recess and rolled up its sleeves for what may prove to be a landmark term. The Justices sat for what is called their long conference to decide which cases they would hear out of the hundreds that had been filed over the summer.

The Court agreed to hear what will more than likely be one of the most important cases of the 2001-02 term, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (No. 00-1751, No. 00-1777, and 00-1179), involving the Ohio school voucher program. The program allows low-income parents to use publicly financed vouchers as tuition to send their children to private, religious schools. This is really three cases rolled into one — each challenging the constitutionality of the statewide program on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution (separation of church and state). The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the voucher program was constitutional; the lower courts sided with opponents of the program.

The Court also granted cert. to two employment cases, Swierkiewicz v. Sorema (No. 00-1853) and Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB (No. 00-1595). In the first case, the Justices are faced with the question of how much evidence is needed to claim employment discrimination based on natural origin or age. This will be a closely watched case in light of the events of September 11 and resulting discussions of civil liberties and racial profiling. The second employment case presents the issue of whether an employee, who later was discovered to be an illegal immigrant, is eligible to receive back pay because the employee supported union organizing activities.

HUD v. Rucker (00-1770) is a civil rights case that raises the question of how broadly the government’s public housing "one-strike" rule should be applied. The policy allows families living in public housing to be evicted if any tenant or guest participates in or is suspected of participating in drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises.

In Massanair v. Walton (No. 00-1937), the Court must decide whether the Social Security Administration is required to pay disability benefits to the those who suffer from long-term disabilities, but are able to "engage in gainful activity" (i.e. return to work) within 12 months.

The Court also added two new tax cases to its caseload, Cornelius P. Young v. United States (dealing with bankruptcy filing period) and United States v. Craft (regarding federal tax liens and property held in tenancy by the entirety).

Finally, the Justices agreed to deliberate whether executing a mentally retarded prisoner is unconstitutional in Atkins v. Virginia (No. 00-8452).

The 2001-2002 October Term of the U.S. Supreme Court begins on Monday, October 1, 2001. Stay tuned…

October 2001
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