Cases to be Reviewed in New U.S. Supreme Court Term

October 1, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review close to 40 cases in its new term that begins on Monday, roughly half the number the court is expected to hear this year. Below are some of the more prominent cases that the court has accepted for review, and brief summaries of the issues.

The court is expected this year to decide also whether to review cases related to the rights of same-sex couples, and the constitutionality of a provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring some states to get federal approval before changing voting procedures.

KIOBEL v. ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM (to be argued today)

The issue is whether American judges are empowered to hear lawsuits over human rights atrocities abroad, under a 1789 law known as the Alien Tort Statute. Twelve Nigerian plaintiffs are appealing a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision barring the use of the statute in civil litigation against oil companies accused of complicity in abuses between 1992 and 1995 under Sani Abacha.


The issue is whether using race in undergraduate admissions at public colleges and universities to increase diversity is still acceptable under the U.S. Constitution. The University of Texas at Austin has used race as a factor in filling about one-quarter of its classes, with a goal of improving the educational experience, and a “race neutral” policy that grants students in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes automatic admission to fill the remainder. In 2003, the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger upheld the use of race at the University of Michigan’s law school to enhance diversity on a campus.


The issues in two “dog sniff” cases will test the boundary of Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches. Florida v. Jardines concerns whether a homeowner’s privacy was violated when a trained narcotics dog named Franky was allowed to walk near the home. He appeared to detect a marijuana odor from inside. Florida v. Harris addresses the propriety of a search of a truck that uncovered methamphetamine ingredients, after the dog Aldo gave an “alert” near a door handle while being led around the truck by a policeman.


The issue is whether Comcast Corp is entitled to decertification of a class-action lawsuit by subscribers who claimed they were overcharged because the largest U.S. cable TV provider monopolized the Philadelphia-area market. The court will consider whether subscribers should have been allowed to sue as a group even though the trial judge failed to first determine whether classwide damages could have been awarded. In recent terms, the Supreme Court has narrowed the ability of various plaintiffs to bring class-action lawsuits.


The issue is whether an employer defending against workplace harassment claims can be held liable for a supervisor’s pervasive harassment if the supervisor merely had direct authority over the employee complaining of the harassment, rather than the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline the employee.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Washington; Additional reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Howard Goller and Eric Walsh)

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