Term Limits Dominate Supreme Court Agenda New Session Also to Take Up Age Discrimination, School Desegregation

Article excerpt

AMID a stampede by voters across the United States to restrict lawmakers' tenure, the United States Supreme Court will rule by next spring on whether states may limit the number of terms served by members of Congress. Voters in 15 states already have approved term limits for their congressional representatives, and term-limit measures will appear on ballots in seven other states in November.

So an appeal from a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that state-imposed limits on congressional terms violate the US Constitution will be one of the most closely watched cases in the high court's new term, which begins Oct. 3.

Among the other cases that await the nine Supreme Court justices when they reconvene on the traditional first Monday in October are controversies involving school desegregation, age discrimination, guns in schools, and the right of a death-row inmate to prove he is innocent with new evidence.

The justices have selected fewer than half of the appeals cases that they will decide by June, however. Some 50 to 60 more cases will be accepted in the months ahead.

For the second consecutive term, a new justice will occupy the junior member's seat at the left end of the bench. Stephen Breyer was confirmed by the Senate in July to succeed Justice Harry Blackmun, who retired after 24 years on the court.

Like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the court last year, Justice Breyer is regarded as a moderate liberal. He is expected to take a generally liberal line on individual-rights issues, but he could be more conservative in dealing with economic and criminal-law issues.

Yet many court watchers believe that Breyer will join a group of justices whose views defy easy labeling. Besides Justice Ginsburg, they include Justices David Souter and, in some areas of the law, Sandra Day O'Connor.

These jurists tend to follow a pragmatic, case-by-case approach to issues. Often some members of this group will vote with the court's conservative wing, but, as sometimes happened last term, they can be expected occasionally to join with liberal Justice John Paul Stevens to outvote the conservatives.

The conservative wing includes Chief Justice William Rehnquist together with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and (somewhat less consistently) Anthony Kennedy. …


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