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Supreme Court heads into final two weeks

Justices are set to hand down decisions in 14 cases involving violent video games, alleged job discrimination at Wal-Mart, generic drugs and other issues.

June 18, 2011|By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
  • California plaintiffs in the Wal-Mart job discrimination case take part in a news conference in March. From left, Betty Dukes of Pittsburg; Deborah Gunter of Palm Springs; Christine Kwapnoski of Bay Point; and Edith Arena of Duarte.
California plaintiffs in the Wal-Mart job discrimination case take part… (Jacquelyn Martin, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court heads into the last two weeks of its term Monday, facing a final round of decisions on matters as varied as violent video games, global warming, drug prescription records and alleged gender bias at Wal-Mart stores.

In all, the justices are due to hand down decisions in 14 cases that have been argued since November. They will meet Monday and Thursday of this week to announce opinions. The remaining cases are set to be decided the following week.

Here are the major cases pending:

•Video games: The court will decide whether California and other states can limit the sale of ultra-violent video games to minors. Until now, all the state efforts to regulate video games have been struck down by lower courts on free-speech grounds. (Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Assn.)

•Job discrimination: The court will decide whether 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees, past and present, can sue the retailer for gender discrimination in the largest employment class-action claim in U.S. history. Civil rights lawyers say only a class action can remedy systematic bias that results in lower wages for female workers. The company says such a huge claim is unwieldy and unfair. (Wal-Mart vs. Dukes)

•Campaign funds: In a major test of the public financing of campaigns, the court will decide in a case from Arizona whether states and cities may give extra matching funds to candidates who face a well-funded opponent who relies on private money. The court's conservatives are skeptical of moves to equalize spending between candidates. (McComish vs. Bennett)

?Global warming: The court will decide whether California, New York and four other states can sue the nation's five largest producers of the greenhouse gases that are widely blamed for causing climate change. The coal-fired power plants are concentrated in the Midwest and South. During oral arguments, the justices hinted they would toss out the suit. (American Electric Power Co. vs. Conn.)

•Prescription records: The court will decide whether drug makers have a right to buy from pharmacies the records of prescriptions that patients bring from their doctors. The data are valuable for drug company salesmen. Three New England states passed laws to restrict the sale of these private records, but Vermont's law was struck down as a free-speech violation. (Sorrell vs. IMS Health)

•Generic drugs: About 70% of the prescriptions now written are for a generic version of a brand-name drug, but it is unclear whether the makers of these copycat drugs have the same duty to warn patients about reported problems. The court will decide whether generic makers can be sued for failing to warn patients about newly revealed dangers. (PLIVA vs. Mensing)

•Crime labs: The court will decide an issue that has arisen in drunk-driving cases across the country. Must the lab technician who conducted a blood-alcohol test show up in court and testify as a witness for the prosecution? The justices split 5 to 4 when they required technicians' testimony in a related issue two years ago. (Bullcoming vs. New Mexico)

david.savage@latimes.com

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