From News Services
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
As the Supreme Court began a new term yesterday in which it will rule on landmark social issues, it rejected about 1,900 appeals that piled up during the summer recess.
Among the cases the justices declined to hear were a challenge to a Texas law that bans the sale of sex toys, objections by parents in California to a mandatory class on Islam, and an appeal of lower-court rulings that the managers of Detroit newspapers acted improperly when they fired striking workers.
The nation's highest court reconvened, as required, on the first Monday in October. But because this year that day fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the session was brief -- about 10 minutes -- and the justices did not hear oral arguments. The court's two Jewish members, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, were absent.
During its new term, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule on potential landmark cases on abortion rights, the environment and racial diversity in schools -- some of the country's most contentious social issues. It will be the second full term for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who succeeded the late William H. Rehnquist, and the first full term for Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who replaced the more moderate Sandra Day O'Connor. President Bush appointed the two conservative justices.
In the Texas case, an employee of an adult bookstore in El Paso was arrested in 2003 for selling a sex toy to undercover police officers. He was charged under the Texas law that bans the sale of an "obscene device" designed primarily "for the stimulation of human genital organs."
His attorney said the law was unconstitutional because it violated the right to sexual privacy without government interference. The court, which last year rejected a challenge to a similar Alabama law, denied the appeal without any comment.
The justices rejected an appeal brought by Jonas and Tiffany Eklund, who contended that the Byron Union School District, east of San Francisco, violated constitutional guarantees separating church and state when it required students in a world history class to read pages from the opening chapter of the Koran and study Islam's Five Pillars of Faith in a unit on Muslim culture.
"Parents entrust public schools with educating their children, not indoctrinating them in religion," the Eklunds' attorneys stated in a brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case. "The public school here had children become Muslims for three weeks."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the activities were not overt religious exercises and therefore did not raise constitutional concerns.
The justices also declined to hear an appeal of a National Labor Relations Board ruling ordering the partnership that prints, distributes and sells advertising for the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press to reinstate employees who were fired during an 18-month newspaper strike in the mid-1990s.
The workers lost their jobs after the newspapers said they blocked entrances at a distribution facility and the Detroit News building, in violation of court orders, during the strike. It ran from July 1995 to February 1997.
The NLRB determined that the employees had not engaged in misconduct but were rather exercising their right to strike. It ordered the employees reinstated with back pay.