Supreme Court begins new term, still shorthanded

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 03, 2016 12:21 PM

By Lawrence Hurley

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term on Monday in low-key fashion, still down a justice for the foreseeable future because of the Republican-led Senate's refusal to act on President Barack Obama's nominee to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia.

The court, opening its term that runs through June, convened as usual on the first Monday in October, although three of the eight justices were absent to observe the Jewish new year holiday. The court was scheduled to hear its first oral arguments on Tuesday.

The court did announce action on hundreds of appeals that had piled up over the summer.

It declined to rehear a bid by the Obama administration to revive the president's plan to spare from deportation millions of immigrants in the country illegally, a case in which the justices split 4-4 in June.

That tie vote was possible because of the vacancy left by Scalia's Feb. 13 death.

The justices also declined to take up the contentious issue of pay for college athletes, leaving in place a lower court's ruling that the governing body for collegiate sports violated antitrust law by limiting athlete compensation.

The court's public session in its ornate chamber lasted just a few minutes as Chief Justice John Roberts officially announced the beginning of the term. Jewish justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were absent.

The justices are ideologically split with four liberals and four conservatives after decades of conservative leaning. Senate Republicans have refused to move forward on Obama's nominee to replace Scalia, appeals court judge Merrick Garland, saying the next president should make the appointment.

If left to the next president, the appointment would be made by the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election pitting Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton. That would mean the vacancy would remain at least until early 2017 and the new justice would miss most of the term's cases.

Last week, ahead of the official start to the term, the court took up eight new cases, including an intellectual property fight involving an Asian-American band in Oregon that could determine the outcome of a similar case involving the Washington Redskins National Football League team. The court on Monday rejected the Redskins' own appeal.

The most closely watched case set for oral arguments this week comes on Wednesday, when the court will consider an insider trading case that could make it more difficult for prosecutors to bring such charges.

The next president could be called upon to fill even more vacancies. Three justices are 78 or older: liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg (83), conservative Anthony Kennedy (80) and liberal Stephen Breyer (78).

Ginsburg, named by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, indicated in a radio interview aired on Monday she is in no rush to step down.

"I will retire when it's time," Ginsburg told National Public Radio. "And when is it time? When I can't do the job full-steam."

Ginsburg has had health issues including being treated for colon cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009 and undergoing a heart procedure in 2014.

Ginsburg in July expressed regret for what she called "ill-advised" comments to reporters about Trump. He called on Ginsburg to resign after she called him "a faker" and joked about moving to New Zealand if he wins the Nov. 8 election.