The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday, as it opens a
new session that is expected to include major rulings on same-sex
marriage, affirmative action and voting rights.
The justices are beginning with a case that examines whether companies
can be sued in U.S. courts over human rights violations committed in
The case involves 12 Nigerians who sued Royal Dutch Petroleum, accusing
the company of complicity in torture, executions and other violations
committed in Nigeria under former military ruler Sani Abacha.
It has drawn international attention. The governments of Germany,
Britain and Argentina, along with U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay,
energy companies and victims' rights groups have all filed so-called
"friends of the court" briefs.
Next week the justices will hear arguments in a case challenging the use
of racial preference in college admissions.
That case involves the University of Texas, where a white student says
she was denied a spot based on admission policies that allow for race to
be taken into account. Such affirmative action policies have been used
by schools to select a more diverse student body, but opponents say the
measures are unfair and no longer necessary to combat discrimination.
The Supreme Court last ruled on the issue in 2003, when it upheld the
consideration of race as a factor in college admissions.
court is also expected to take up cases involving the 1965 Voting Rights
Act, which forces states with a history of racial and ethnic
discrimination to get approval for changes to their voting laws.
In a 2009 decision, the justices showed skepticism about whether the
provisions were still necessary. States seeking to lift the approval
requirement are trying to enact reforms including new voter
The other big issue expected to come before the court is same-sex
marriage, specifically challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which
bars same-sex couples from receiving a range of federal benefits.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says the court will likely take up same-sex
marriage toward the end of the term.