High Court Poised for Landmark Decisions

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court is poised to write history at a record pace during the next 16 days, when it will decide an unprecedented collection of appeals whose outcomes could shape the country's social, political and religious fabric.

Beginning today, the justices will issue their final 17 opinions of the term before recessing until the first Monday in October. At least 13 of them have broad ramifications, with the most public impact expected from rulings on:

* Boy Scouts of America's determination to keep homosexuals out of role-model leadership jobs working with boys.

* Student-led prayer at public school sporting events in Texas, and taxpayer aid to parochial schools in a separate Louisiana case involving computers.

* Admission to evidence of voluntary confessions when a prisoner hasn't gotten a Miranda warning of his right to remain silent and have a lawyer, a case stemming from an Alexandria bank robbery that could affect all police work.

* Two abortion cases testing the power of states to outlaw partial-birth abortion - as Nebraska and 30 other states have done - and challenging Colorado's limits to protest at abortion clinics.

Justices already have decided 57 cases, many of which would have topped the list in other terms, including two acts of Congress it declared unconstitutional.

They canceled Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco, allowed sexually explicit cable networks 24-hour operations without special scrambling, prohibited exclusion of white voters from state elections affecting only members of racial minorities, reaffirmed campaign contribution limits, upheld the Drivers' License Privacy Act, affirmed parental rights to refuse some grandparent visits, and overturned a law allowing victims of sex-motivated crimes to sue attackers in federal court.

Issues in other key cases that still are pending involve hate-crime legislation in New Jersey, whether states may establish their own foreign policies as Massachusetts did when it threatened to punish businesses that trade with Burma, and California's ballot initiative requiring political parties to open their nomination process to a vote by any citizen regardless of party. …