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Another big Supreme Court term kicks off Monday

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 10:36 p.m. MDT

The requirement currently applies to the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. It also covers certain counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some local jurisdictions in Michigan and New Hampshire. Coverage has been triggered by past discrimination not only against blacks, but also against American Indians, Asian-Americans, Alaskan Natives and Hispanics.

The court spoke skeptically about the provision in a 2009 decision, but left it mostly unchanged. Now, however, cases from Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas could prompt the court to deal head on with the issue of advance approval. The South Carolina and Texas cases involve voter identification laws; a similar Indiana law was previously upheld by the court.

It is unclear when the justices will decide whether to hear arguments in those cases. Arguments themselves would not take place until next year.

Yet there still is a chance that the court could become enmeshed in election disputes, even before the ballots are counted. Suits in Ohio over early voting and provisional ballots appear the most likely to find their way to the justices before the Nov. 6 election, said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine law school.

Among other important cases already on the court's docket:

— A high-stakes dispute, to be argued first thing Monday, between the business community and human rights advocates over the reach of a 1789 law. The issue is whether businesses can be sued in U.S. courts for human rights violations that take place on foreign soil and have foreign victims.

— A challenge to the use of drug-sniffing dogs in two situations. Florida police used a marijuana-sniffing dog's alert at the door of a private home to obtain a search warrant to look inside the house. The question is whether the dog's sniff itself was a search. A separate case looks at the reliability of animals trained to pick up the scent of illegal drugs.

— A challenge to the detention of a man who police picked up a mile away from an apartment they had a warrant to search. Occupants of a home may be detained during the search for the safety of officers, but this case tests how far that authority extends away from the place to be searched.

— Environmental disputes involving runoff from logging roads in Oregon and water pollution in Los Angeles.

Paul Clement, the Republican lawyer who lost the health care case and could again be before the justices on gay marriage and voting rights, said last term punctured the notion that in close cases, the court goes where Kennedy wants.

"We've all been reminded that's not always the case," he said.

The idea that could be tested this term is whether Roberts' concern for the court as an institution that is apart from politics will influence his votes, or at least his reasoning, in the year's biggest cases.

Online:

Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourt.gov

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