A brief look at the new cases that the Supreme Court said Thursday it would consider during its 2014-2015 term, which begins Monday:
-Whether retailer Abercrombie & Fitch discriminated against a Muslim woman who was denied a job because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s dress code, which the clothing chain has since changed. The Obama administration is appealing a lower court decision that said the New Albany, Ohio-based company did not discriminate because the job applicant did not specifically say she needed a religious accommodation. At issue is how employers must deal with laws that require them to make allowances for a worker’s religious practices, as long as doing so does not cause the business too much hardship.
-Whether the court should take away a powerful legal tactic the Obama administration and others have used to combat housing discrimination. A Texas case challenges the theory, known as disparate impact, that certain housing or lending practices can illegally harm minority groups, even when there is no proof of intent to discriminate. The court tried to tackle the issue twice before, but those cases were settled out of court in 2012 and 2013, just weeks before oral argument. While this legal device routinely has been used in employment discrimination cases, it is not explicitly covered under the Fair Housing Act.
-Whether states that elect judges can stop candidates from directly seeking campaign contributions. In a case that could affect hundreds of judicial races around the country, the justices will hear an appeal from a Florida judicial candidate who argues the state’s ban on personal solicitation of campaign funds violates her First Amendment free speech rights. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the ban, saying it was justified because such conduct raises an appearance of impropriety and may lead the public to question a judge’s impartiality. Thirty-nine states allow voters to elect judges and 30 have laws or rules barring candidates from personally seeking contributions. Most of those states have blanket prohibitions similar to Florida’s code of judicial conduct.
-Agreed to hear Ohio’s appeal of a court ruling that threw out the child abuse conviction of a Cleveland man. The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial because preschool teachers were allowed to testify about statements that a 3-year-old boy made to them. The child wasn’t required to testify. At issue is the role teachers and other people who are not in law enforcement play when they hear allegations of abuse and then report them as required by law.
-Whether private sector health care providers can force a state to raise its Medicaid reimbursement rates to keep up with rising costs. Idaho is trying to overturn a lower court decision that ordered the state to increase payments. A 2009 lawsuit claimed the state was unfairly keeping Medicaid reimbursement rates at 2006 levels despite studies showing that the cost of providing care had gone up. The state says the Constitution doesn’t allow private parties to enforce federal Medicaid funding laws against states.
-Agreed to consider a challenge by Arizona Republicans to the state’s congressional districting map. Arizona voters created an independent redistricting commission in 2000 in an effort to take politics out of the process. But the GOP-led Legislature complained in a lawsuit that the Constitution exclusively gives power to draw maps for congressional districts to elected state lawmakers.