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Major cases among 29 still on docket

June 01, 2008|David G. Savage

Heading into the final month of its term, the Supreme Court faces decisions in 29 pending appeals, including these major cases:

* Gun rights: Does the 2nd Amendment protect an individual's right to have a gun? The court will rule on a security guard's challenge to an unusual law in the District of Columbia that prohibits the private possession of handguns but not rifles or shotguns. (District of Columbia vs. Heller)

* Guantanamo: Do the foreign prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a right to challenge their detention in court? Four years ago, the justices said yes, but the Bush administration won legislation in Congress that cut off this right to habeas corpus for foreigners held as "enemy combatants" by the military. Now that law is being challenged. However the court rules, the decision is unlikely to finally resolve the dispute over how to handle the prisoners. (Boumediene vs. Bush)

* Iraq: Do American citizens held by the U.S. military in Iraq but who face criminal charges there have the right to seek the aid of a U.S. court? The Bush administration says these individuals can be tried by Iraqi courts and without interference by U.S. judges. (Munaf vs. Geren)

* Death penalty: Is it cruel and unusual punishment to impose the death penalty for the rape of a child? Louisiana became the first state to authorize the death penalty for this crime; four other states have followed. (Kennedy vs. Louisiana)

* Exxon Valdez: Can the oil company be forced to pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to thousands of people whose livelihoods were affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989? The company has already paid billions in fines and compensatory damages, so the ruling concerns only whether punitive damages are permitted under maritime law. (Exxon vs. Baker)

* Unions: Can California prohibit employers from using state funds to "deter union organizing"? This state law, the first in the nation, has been put on hold, and the Bush administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say it should be thrown out because it tilts the playing field in favor of unions. (Chamber of Commerce vs. Brown)

* Witness testimony: Does a murder defendant have a right to block the jury from hearing the victim's statement to police before she was killed? The high court in 2004 said that statements made out of court may not be used during a trial if the witness does not testify. The pending case from Los Angeles tests whether that rule protects even a defendant accused of killing the witness. (Giles vs. California)

-- David G. Savage

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