In the case involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, No. 03-1388, mobility-impaired passengers say that they were required to pay higher fares and faced architectural barriers aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Bahamian-registered ships.
Enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations.
Justice Department regulations define public accommodations to include cruise ships, but two lower federal courts have disagreed over whether the ADA applies on foreign-registered vessels, which ply ports in Florida and the Gulf Coast but which are themselves technically not part of U.S. territory.
Norwegian Cruise Line, in its brief, said that it is "fully committed to making its many disabled passengers' cruise experiences as accessible, integrated and enjoyable as possible," but urged the court to rule that the ADA does not apply to foreign ships unless Congress specifically says so.
In the election-law case, Clingman v. Beaver, No. 04-37, the issue is who gets to decide how political parties nominate their standard-bearers.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, ruled that the Oklahoma state legislature could not prohibit the tiny Libertarian Party of Oklahoma from holding an open primary. The states must allow any party that wants to permit members of other parties to vote in its primary to do so, the 10th Circuit ruled.
The 10th Circuit said that its ruling was required by a 2000 Supreme Court decision that invoked the parties' right to regulate their own affairs to strike down a California law requiring parties to open their primaries to all.
In its appeal petition to the Supreme Court, Oklahoma said that its law reflected the state's valid interest in preventing the parties from interfering in each other's affairs, and that the 10th Circuit decision was of potentially wide significance because almost half of the states now mandate some form of closed or semi-closed primary election.
All three cases will be argued during the winter, and decisions are expected by July.