WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is beginning a new term with controversial topics that offer the court's conservative majority the chance to move aggressively to undo limits on campaign contributions, undermine claims of discrimination in housing and mortgage lending, and allow for more government-sanctioned prayer.
Assuming the government shutdown doesn't get in their way, the justices also will deal with a case that goes to the heart of the partisan impasse in Washington: whether and when the president may use recess appointments to fill key positions without Senate confirmation.
The court was unaffected for the first few days of the government shutdown and there was no expectation that arguments set for October would have to be rescheduled.
The new term that starts Monday may be short on the sort of high-profile battles over health care and gay marriage that marked the past two years. But several cases ask the court to overrule prior decisions — bold action in an institution that relies on the power of precedent.
"There are an unusual number of cases going right to hot-button cultural issues and aggressive briefing on the conservative side asking precedents to be overruled," said Georgetown University law professor Pamela Harris, who served in President Barack Obama's Justice Department.
Paul Clement, a frequent advocate before the court and the top Supreme Court lawyer under President George W. Bush, agreed that the opportunity exists for dramatic precedent-busting decisions. But Clement said each case also offers the court "an off-ramp," a narrower outcome that may be more in keeping with Chief Justice John Roberts' stated desire for incremental decision-making that bridges the court's ideological divide.
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2013, file photo, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, left, R-Wis., accompanied by Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington where they outlined their approach to tackling the nation’s debt problems. (AP Photo)
Congressional negotiators are said to be nearing a budget proposal for next year that would achieve the bare minimum -- setting basic spending levels to avoid a partial government shutdown, and tinkering around the edges of the sequester.