WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is starting its new term with a new justice, Elena Kagan, and bad news for hundreds of parties trying to get their cases heard at the nation's highest court.
The justices are expected to start work Monday by denying many of the nearly 2,000 appeals that piled up in recent months. The court also is hearing argument in a bankruptcy dispute and an appeal by criminal defendants seeking shorter prison terms.
During the new term, the court will look at provocative anti-gay protests at military funerals and a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children. These cases worry free speech advocates, who fear the court could limit First Amendment freedoms.
The funeral protest lawsuit, over signs praising American war deaths, "is one of those cases that tests our commitment to the First Amendment," said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another case involves a different aspect of the First Amendment, the government's relationship to religion. The justices will decide whether Arizona's income tax credit scholarship program, in essence, directs state money to religious schools in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Under Chief Justice John Roberts, marking his fifth anniversary on the court, and with the replacement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor by Justice Samuel Alito, the court has been more sympathetic to arguments that blur the line between government and religion, as long as one religion is not favored over another.
Kagan, confirmed in August, is the one new face on the court, but nearly everyone will be sitting in different seats when the term opens.