J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2014, file photo, people walk outside the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court is starting a new term on Oct. 5, 2015, that promises a steady stream of divisive social issues, and also brighter prospects for conservatives who suffered more losses than usual in recent months.

WASHINGTON — Abortion, birth control and race are among the most divisive issues confronting the Supreme Court over the next nine months as the court's new term begins Monday.

The term will play out against the backdrop of a presidential campaign in which some candidates are talking pointedly about the nine justices and the prospect of replacing some of them in the next few years.

The justices are returning to the bench for their first public appearance together since a number of high-profile decisions in June that highlighted passionate — sometimes barbed — disagreements, and suggested bruised feelings.

Justice Anthony Kennedy probably will play a decisive role in the most important cases to be heard by the court. He wrote the decision last term that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide.