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7 Cases to Follow in the Upcoming Supreme Court Term

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

The Supreme Court's summer recess ends next Monday, as the justices return to review the petitions for certiorari that have accumulated over the summer.

And while that "long conference," as it's known, may add a few new interesting cases to the Court's docket, the Supreme Court already has quite the term in store for it: cases covering everything from the legality of ATM fees to the separation of church and state. Here are seven that we'll be following closely, and that you should too.

1. Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley

We've already dubbed Trinity Lutheran "the new term's most interesting case," and for good reason: it's a dispute about scrap tires and religious freedom. Trinity Lutheran Church, which operates a religious preschool and daycare, wants access to a Missouri grant program that helps nonprofits resurface their playground with rubber flooring made from recycled scrap tires. But Missouri has refused, citing sections of its state constitution that bar providing aid to religious organizations -- a bar that Trinity argues violates the church's own free exercise of religion.

2. Buck v. Davis

If the facts behind Trinity Lutheran are a bit odd, the background for Buck v. Davis is downright shocking. Duane Edward Buck was tried for murder in 1995 and eventually sentenced to death. During his trial, Buck's own attorney presented a witness that testified that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future simply because of his race. Now Buck is seeking to have his conviction overthrown, on the grounds that he was denied effective counsel, though the Fifth Circuit found that his extraordinary case wasn't extraordinary enough to justify a Certificate of Appealability.

3. Moore v. Texas

Another Texas death penalty case, Moore asks the Court to decide just who is so severely intellectually incapacitated that their execution would violate the Eighth Amendment. In Texas, courts use a 1992 definition of intellectual disability and what's known as the "Lenny standard," a multi-factor test named after the fictional feeble-minded but sweet-natured character from John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." The Supreme Court has provided little guidance on how states can determine when someone is intellectually disabled, but Moore argues that Texas's tests don't pass constitutional muster.

4. Visa v. Osborn and Visa v. Stoumbos

Do ATM fees violate antitrust laws? They do, according to some consumer advocates, who allege that major credit card companies violated antitrust laws when they agreed with banks on standard ATM fees. Now the Supreme Court is being asked to determine if those allegations, alone, are enough to support an antitrust suit.

5. Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado

Federal courts, along with many states, prohibit juror testimony about their deliberation process, with what are known as "no impeachment" rules. But Pena-Rodriguez could change that. Miguel Angel Pena Rodriguez was found guilty of misdemeanor sexual harassment charges, but a jury that included at least one openly biased member; a juror who made repeated comments about Pena Rodriguez's race, including "I think he did it because he's Mexican." Pena Rodriguez now wants to use juror statements as evidence that he lacked a fair trial, and argues that his cases is so extreme that it justifies revisiting the no impeachment rule.

6. Microsoft v. Baker

Microsoft v. Baker is a dispute over literal games as well as litigation gamesmanship. Owners of Xbox 360, Microsoft's video gaming platform, filed a class action against the tech company, alleging that the Xbox's disc drive destroyed their game discs and their fun. When a court refused to certify their class, the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice, in order to get an appealable final verdict. Now Microsoft says that the voluntary dismissal should prevent the angry gamers from getting review.

7. Bravo-Fernandez v. United States

The first case the Court will hear in the new term is also one of its most interesting ones. Juan Bravo-Fernandez was tried for conspiring to bribe a Puerto Rican senator and convicted of bribery but not of conspiring. On appeal, his bribery conviction was tossed out, because the alleged bribe took place after act he was supposedly paying for -- essentially, because the quid came last in this quid pro quo. Now, the government wants to retry Bravo-Fernandez and the senator, a retrial the Bravo-Fernandez claims is a violation of the Fifth Amendment's ban on double jeopardy.

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