beards, Facebook threats on U.S. top court's docket
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[October 06, 2014]
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme
Court opens on Monday a new term in which the nine justices will decide
issues such as whether a Muslim prison inmate can have a beard and
whether a man can be prosecuted for making threatening statements on
The term, which runs to the end of June, is expected to be defined
by whatever action the justices take on whether states can ban gay
marriage. They have not yet agreed to hear any of the seven cases
already decided by federal appeals courts.
Most legal experts expect them to decide the issue, with oral
arguments early next year and a ruling likely in late June.
Arguments start on Monday in the cases the court has already
accepted. It has agreed to hear a number of cases involving people
challenging their treatment by the government, whether it be
prosecutors, police or agencies.
Arkansas inmate Gregory Holt's challenge to a state prison grooming
policy will be heard on Tuesday. Holt, who initially got the court's
attention with a handwritten plea last year, says the policy
violates a 2000 federal law giving religious rights to prisoners. He
wants to grow a half-inch (1.3 cm) beard in accordance with his
Holt's lawyers note that 44 state prison systems and the federal
government allow inmates to have similar beards. Legal experts
predict he has a good chance of victory.
The case gives the court another chance to rule on religious freedom
just four months after it decided that certain for-profit
corporations can assert religious claims under another federal law.
The Facebook threat case, to be argued on Dec. 1, concerns Anthony
Elonis, who posted statements on the social network in 2010 after
his wife, Tara Elonis, left him. Aimed at his wife, co-workers and
others, the posts were mostly in the form of rap lyrics in which he
fantasized about committing violent acts.
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Elonis was charged with violating a federal law that outlaws sending
threatening communications. He was convicted on four of five counts
and sentenced to 44 months in prison. The legal question is whether
prosecutors needed to convince jurors that Elonis intended his
statements to be interpreted as threats.
The first argument the court will hear on Monday comes in a North
Carolina case brought by Nicholas Heien, who was charged and pleaded
guilty to drug trafficking after police found cocaine in his car
during a traffic stop. He challenged whether police had the right to
stop his car for having a broken tail light when state law does not
require two working tail lights.
During its term, the court also will hear important business-related
cases. These include a closely watched housing discrimination case,
a federal agency's claim against Abercrombie & Fitch Co for not
hiring a Muslim women because she wore a head scarf and a dispute
over whether workers should be paid for the time it takes to go
through security checks.
(The story was refiled to correct metric conversion in the fifth
paragraph to make it 1.3 cm instead of 2.5 cm)
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
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