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Justices poised for full docket
The Supreme Court reconvenes next week to hear cases on a wide variety of issues, such as government involvement in religion, "dirty words" on broadcast television and the treatment of Muslim terrorism suspects.
"A wide range of national security issues are percolating in the lower courts and could end up before the Supreme Court this term," said Brad Berenson, a partner in the Washington law firm of Sidley Austin and an observer of the high court.
One of the 43 cases on the court's docket is Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a lawsuit brought by Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim who says he was mistreated after being imprisoned when the FBI classified him as a "person of interest" with regard to suspected terrorism.
He has sued FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other federal officials, saying their decisions led to what he called the abuse against him. He also says his ethnic origin contributed to his unjustified detention and mistreatment.
Government officials usually are granted "qualified immunity" from prosecution for their policy actions. However, the immunity does not protect them if they knowingly engage in constitutional violations that injure others.
"The real stakes here are going to be the extent to which there is a chilling effect on national security officials," Mr. Berenson said.
Religious doctrine is on the docket with Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, in which the Supreme Court is asked whether the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah, can display the Ten Commandments on a monument in a city park as a matter of free speech.
The small Summum sect argues that if the city displays the Ten Commandments, it also should display their belief's Seven Aphorisms. City officials refused, which sent the dispute to the Supreme Court.
"The betting money is that Pleasant Grove will come out ahead in this," said Tom Goldstein, a partner in the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.
In Fox Television Stations Inc. v. the Federal Communications Commission, the court agreed to decide whether "fleeting" uses of expletives - or so-called "dirty words" - are acceptable under FCC guidelines.
Currently, the FCC can fine broadcast stations and even take away their licenses if the stations allow the words to be aired.
Television executives argue that the kinds of one-time expletives uttered by celebrities such as Cher and Nicole Richie should be allowed as an insignificant departure from the rule.
In one example, Miss Richie complained to her reality-TV show partner, Paris Hilton, about the difficulty of cleaning cattle manure from her shoes.
In Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, environmentalists say the Navy should not be allowed to use sonar near whales and other marine mammals during training exercises off the coast of California.
Sonar can injure the hearing of the mammals and confuse their internal guidance systems, environmentalists say.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the Navy did not prove "emergency circumstances" that would allow continued use of sonar near the mammals, some of which are endangered species.
The Navy says training exercises with sonar are important for national security.
In Wyeth v. Levine, the court is supposed to decide whether pharmaceutical companies can be subjected to a variety of state drug warning-label laws.
Wyeth, a major pharmaceutical company, argues that state laws are pre-empted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's control over drug labeling.
Diane Levine sued Wyeth under a "failure-to-warn" state law after she developed an adverse reaction to an anti-nausea drug that led to amputation of her gangrenous arm. Ms. Levine is a guitarist from Vermont.
Wyeth said the lawsuit in state court is pre-empted by federal law because the FDA approved the warning on the label.
A lower court sided with Ms. Levine, saying the FDA warning set only a minimum standard but was inadequate for all cases.
About the Author
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