Supreme Court opens momentous term on Monday


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court returns to work Monday facing a blockbuster docket, as it roars back from last year's unusually low-key term.

Objections to same-sex marriage, state regulation of sports betting, the privacy of cellphone users and limits on political partisanship dominate the court's agenda.

"There's only one prediction that's entirely safe about the upcoming term," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said at Georgetown University's law school late last month. "And that is, it will be momentous."

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Behind the scenes with Supreme Court Justices
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Behind the scenes with Supreme Court Justices
A circular staircase is seen in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A marble staircase leads down to an elevator at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A notice is seen on a lectern, which faces the bench and where lawyers stand to argue, in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stands in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
Elevator operator Johnnie Bacon, from Washington, smiles at a passenger as he tends one of the elevators in the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
People hold umbrellas on a rainy day at the plaza by the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Daniel Agbleze waters flowers in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Visitors look on as attorney John Duggan (R) takes photos with his family, after arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Historical and mythical figures of the law are seen in a frieze in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
A clock hangs above the bench in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Name plates mark the spaces reserved for justices' families in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pencils, a reminder of how to address the court and a seating chart of the justices are seen at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Carved oak walls and arches are seen in the reading area of the library at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer looks for a favourite volume of Proust in his rare book collection in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts eats a bowl of soup as he sits down to lunch with his team of clerks in his private study at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan walks with her clerks in one of the four inner courtyards at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A guard stands on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
An anti-abortion protester demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Television journalists prepare for a news conference on the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben departs the U.S. Justice Department in traditional morning coat on his way to argue his one-hundredth case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor sit on stage as they talk about the role of food in the life of the U.S. Supreme Court at the National Museum of American History in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Reporters wait for the release of the text of the justices' opinions, timed to match the readings of the decisions from the bench, at the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
Dappled light falls across books shelved in the library at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shows the many different collars (jabots) she wears with her robes, in her chambers at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sits in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst SEARCH "SCOTUS" FOR THIS STORY. THE IMAGES SHOULD ONLY BE USED TOGETHER WITH THE STORY - NO STAND-ALONE USES. IMAGE FOR USE AND PUBLICATION ONLY AS PART OF REUTERS SUPREME COURT "Marble, drape and justice: inside the U.S. Supreme Court" PHOTO ESSAY UNTIL AFTER OCTOBER 1, 2017.
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The court was to hear a showdown over President Trump's travel ban, but the courtroom argument scheduled for Oct. 10 was canceled after the White House issued new visa restrictions on Sept. 24. On Thursday, lawyers for both sides will tell the court what they think should be done with the challenges to the president's authority to issue the executive order.

Here are some of the issues up before the highest court in the land this term: 

Opposition to same-sex weddings

Same-sex marriage is at the heart of a case brought by a Colorado baker who refused to provide a custom cake for a gay couple's wedding reception because it would violate his religious principles. That ran afoul of a Colorado law that forbids businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The baker, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, said his cakes are works of art and the state law compels him to express a view he opposes. "I don't want to be forced to create art, sculpting, painting, any of the things that I do for an event that goes against my faith." 

But the couple he turned away, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, say there's no religious exception to laws against discrimination.

"Could a hotel owner turn away an interracial couple because his religion believed that people shouldn't marry outside their race?" Mullins asks.

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Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality
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Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality
People celebrate during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple kiss to celebrate the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
People celebrates during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Two women celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People run under a giant equality flag as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters from the Human Rights Campaign celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Activists hold signs regarding same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters hold rainbow flags outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People wave a giant equality flag in celebration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a rainbow flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay couples nationwide have the right to marry in a 5-4 decision. How incredible it is to be here as they announced it!
It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. #fbf #equality #lovemustwin #freedomtomarry
People are FREAKING OUT at the Stonewall Inn! Tears, hugs, laughter. http://t.co/bC1RUfEDzk
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State-approved sports betting

New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, is urging the court to rule that the federal government cannot prevent his state from allowing sports betting at casinos and racetracks, where it would generate millions in tax revenue. Professional sports leagues and the NCAA say in response that a federal law bans sports betting in most states.
 

Cellphone privacy

At a time when 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone, the court will decide whether the police need a search warrant to plot the movements of a phone's user, by analyzing data the phone companies collect as roving calls are handed off to successive cell towers. 

Lower courts have generally said police don't need a warrant, relying on a Supreme Court ruling four decades ago. It said telephone customers don't expect that the numbers they dial will remain private, since the phone company needs the information for billing. The court will decide whether that reasoning should apply in the digital age, when phones are no longer hard-wired into the wall.

Nathan Wessler of the ACLU said police should be required to get a warrant from a judge before accessing the data.

"Knowing where a person's phone goes can tell you a great deal of private information about them, from where someone slept at night, whether at home, or in someone else's house three miles away, to whether someone goes to a doctor, a psychiatrist."

Compulsory union fees

In a case that could deal a crippling blow to unions representing millions of the nation's public employees, the justices will decide whether state government workers who choose not to join a union must still pay a share of union dues to cover the cost of negotiating contracts. At stake is the future power and financial health of public sector unions in the 22 states where they have a duty to bargain for both members and non-members alike. 

Anti-union groups argue that requiring nonunion members to pay a portion of union dues forces them to endorse views they don't agree with, violating their First Amendment rights. But the unions say negotiating contracts, which provide benefits to nonunion members as well, is expensive. They argue that the fees prevent "free riders."

Partisan gerrymandering

And in a case that could change the future of American politics, the justices will consider whether states can become so blatantly partisan in drawing the boundary lines for voting districts that they violate the Constitution.

Wisconsin is split nearly equally between Republican and Democratic voters, but after gaining control of the legislature and the governor's office, Republicans redrew State Assembly district lines in 2011, eventually giving them 64 out of 99 seats. Lower courts said the result was so excessively partisan that it denied Democrats a fair shot at electing candidates of their choosing.

"We've reached a point here, and Wisconsin is an extreme example, where a political party ends up deciding in advance who's going to win or lose the election," said Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center, which is challenging the new map.

Courts have long held that oddly shaped districts are unconstitutional if they put racial minorities at a disadvantage. But it has never set out a legal standard for blowing the whistle on excess political partisanship.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said states are getting much better at using voter information to fine tune their electoral maps. "Elected officials, armed with new data, are seeking maximum partisan advantage. And if the court doesn't put the brakes on it, this is likely to accelerate and get even worse."

This Supreme Court term will end in late June.

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