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U.S. Supreme Court opens Monday
Clean air, water and police searches up for justices' consideration
WASHINGTON -- From the Clean Air Act to police roadblocks, from the Clean Water Act to maternity drug tests: These are some of the important issues the Supreme Court will consider. The new term began Monday against the backdrop of a presidential election that may decide the court's future direction.
Business interests say Congress "delegated" too much authority when it let the Environmental Protection Agency set emission standards under the Clean Air Act, which puts limits on ozone and smog particles.
Former EPA official Steve Cochran said, "The judgment of the administrator is not to go to zero but to take the evidence available and find out and do her best job of picking where the line ought to be to protect the public health with the best margin of safety."
The case has high stakes for businesses which question whether the EPA should weigh both costs and benefits.
When turning their attention to the Clean Water Act, the justices will be asked if the value of migratory birds to both watchers and hunters puts them under the wing of the interstate commerce clause. The court will also be asked whether the birds' watering holes should be put off-limits as landfill sites.
Aspects of Fourth Amendment under scrutiny
Roadblocks and drug tests come under scrutiny when the protection of the Fourth Amendment against "unreasonable searches" will be tested.
What is reasonable? the court will be asked. Is it reasonable for a South Carolina hospital to turn drug-revealing urine tests of pregnant women over to police? Is it reasonable for Indianapolis, Indiana, police to set up a roadblock and then allow drug-sniffing dogs to check out motorists?
Kenneth Falk, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said, "The problem with carving an exception to the Fourth Amendment to recognize a particular law-enforcement need is there will always be different law needs.
"How about roadblocks to stop people who haven't paid child support, who haven't paid parking fines? The list is endless."
The justices will tackle football in a Tennessee case that pits private and public high schools over recruiting rules, then tee up the PGA Tour's appeal of a disability ruling that allows pro golfer Casey Martin to ride a golf cart where other pros walk.
Session begins in shadow of presidential election
After their summer recess, the justices return to the 2000-2001 session aware that much of the attention will be on the presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
The next president over the next four years could make a number of appointments to the Supreme Court, which has generally been controlled by a 5-4 conservative majority, say legal experts.
Such appointments could change the court's ideological makeup, affecting such issues as abortion rights, church-state separation and the balance of power between the federal government and the states.
University of Virginia law professor A.E. Dick Howard said, "It's an important question because it bears on the court's balance in these closely divided cases."
Bush and Gore have expressed differing visions of the court. Texas Gov. Bush cites conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as models for his appointees.
Vice President Gore has said he most admires the late William Brennan and the late Thurgood Marshall, two liberals who helped transform American law until they retired in the '90s.
Abortion rights not an issue, says law professor
Gore has also said the election could help determine whether women keep the legal right to an abortion under Roe vs. Wade, but Howard said that issue has not caught on.
"People realize that Roe vs. Wade has been largely affirmed by the Supreme Court and it is just not going to go away. It does not seem to have translated into a great campaign cause."
Experts do not see any immediate vacancies, but they do predict that one or two justices could retire during the next four years.
The court's oldest members are Justice John Paul Stevens, 80; Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 76; and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 70.
Thomas Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who closely follows the court, said Rehnquist and O'Connor, both appointed by Republican presidents, might decide to stay if Gore wins the presidential race.
The conservative bloc comprises Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, O'Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy, said Goldstein. The more moderate members are Stevens and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and Stephen Breyer.
The nine have served together since 1994, said Goldstein, making it one of the longest periods without any change in court history.
"Every indication is they get along well and love their jobs," he added.
Supreme Court to decide if drug checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment
Summary of Clean Water Act: U.S. EPA Region 5
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