IN THE NEWS #449 - Supreme Court Term Begins

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

America's highest court began its new term this week. In the next few months, the United States Supreme Court will rule on a number of different issues that affect Americans.

One important case this term involves the Americans with Disabilities Act. This ten-year-old federal law protects disabled people from unfair treatment. Two workers have accused a state university in Alabama of violating the law. One has breast cancer. The other has problems breathing.

Alabama officials argue that the wording of the Americans with Disabilities Act is too general. Observers say a ruling by the court could have a major effect on the law and on the power of Congress to protect Americans.

The Supreme Court also will consider several cases that involve police searches for evidence of a crime. One case involves a hospital that tested pregnant women for illegal drugs. The hospital gave the results to police. Police used the tests to arrest some women almost as soon as they gave birth.

The Supreme Court generally decides about seventy-five cases each term. The court has a chief justice and eight associate justices. The president appoints, and the Senate approves them. Once appointed, justices may serve as long as they wish. Their duty is to make sure that federal and state laws agree with the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court was established in Seventeen-Eighty-Nine. It is one of the three major parts of the government. The Constitution gives Congress the power to approve laws. It gives government agencies under the president the power to carry out these laws. And, it gives the Supreme Court the power to decide if these laws make sense.

Most cases already have been judged in a lower court. If the Supreme Court accepts an appeal and agrees to re-examine a case, then its decision is final. Neither Congress nor the president can veto it.

However, presidents can influence the Supreme Court. Most presidents have the chance to appoint one or more new justices to replace those who retire or die. Presidents usually name justices who share their political beliefs. That means presidents may leave a mark on the court that lasts long after they leave office.

In fact, this issue came up Tuesday in the presidential debate. Al Gore said the next president is going to appoint as many as four justices. He said George W. Bush would appoint justices who oppose the right of women to end pregnancies. The Supreme Court made abortion legal in the United States in Nineteen-Seventy-Three. Mr. Bush said he would appoint justices who closely follow the Constitution and do not use the court to write social policy.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English