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Supreme Court: Campaign finance and public prayer top new term agenda

The Supreme Court begins its new term Monday despite the government shutdown. Top cases in the coming months also will address presidential recess appointments and affirmative action. 

By Staff writer / October 6, 2013

The Supreme Court Building in Washington. The court, which begins its new term Monday despite the government shutdown, will hear and decide roughly 80 cases.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP



Campaign contribution limits, President Obama’s power to make recess appointments, and public prayer at government meetings top the US Supreme Court’s agenda for its upcoming term, which begins Monday.

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The justices are also slated to decide cases testing the constitutionality of a Michigan ban on affirmative action and whether a 35-foot buffer zone around health clinics in Massachusetts violates the free speech rights of abortion protesters.

Despite the government shutdown, the high court has announced it will begin its 2013-14 term on Monday and operate at least through Oct. 11. The new session marks the ninth Supreme Court term under Chief Justice John Roberts.

By tradition, the term begins on the first Monday in October and runs for one year. The justices complete their deliberations and hand down all decisions in pending cases by the end of June. During those intervening nine months, the nine-member court will hear and decide roughly 80 cases.

The internal dynamics of the court are well established. In high-profile cases the court frequently splits into liberal and conservative camps, with a bloc of five conservative justices – all appointees of Republican presidents – on one side. On the other side are four liberal justices, all nominees of Democratic presidents.

This is the familiar 5-to-4 lineup that delivered conservative blockbuster decisions like the Citizens United campaign finance opinion in 2010 and last term’s invalidation of a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

But that lineup does not hold true in all high-profile cases. Chief Justice Roberts joined his four liberal colleagues in 2012 to provide the critical fifth vote necessary to uphold Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

And in June, Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the liberal wing in a 5-to-4 decision that invalidated a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied equal access to federal marriage benefits for same-sex couples who were legally married in their home state.

This year’s docket does not currently feature a mega-case of the stature of the health-care showdown or the same-sex marriage drama. But the emerging lineup of cases nonetheless will force the justices to confront a range of hot-button issues.

Campaign finance limits

Among the most significant cases of the term (so far) is a constitutional challenge to a portion of the federal campaign finance law that sets an aggregate limit on the amount of money an individual can give to candidates and political parties.


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