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High Court To Decide Major Cases

Provision of Health Care Law, Abortion, Unions on Docket

Washington — The Supreme Court heads into the last two weeks of its annual term today seemingly poised to hand down a series of decisions that will come as defeats to President Obama and victories for foes of abortion.

Already this year, the court has bolstered the rights of big campaign donors and upheld Christian prayers at public meetings.

The themes of free speech and religious freedom are likely to be heard, and two other cases involve adapting the law to fast-developing technology. Another case could deal a major blow to public employees unions.

The justices try to finish their work by the end of June. The annual rush this time of year means many of their hardest cases are decided in the last two weeks of the month - often by 5-4 splits. Currently, 16 cases remain unresolved.

Here are the highlights:

∎ Contraceptives and religious liberty

Do the owners of private companies, citing their religious faith, have a right to refuse to provide their workers with the full range of contraceptives promised under President Obama’s health insurance law?

A ruling for the business owners, which seems likely, could open the door for new claims of legal exemptions based on religion.

∎ Abortion and free speech

Can Massachusetts enforce a 35-foot quiet zone near the doors of abortion clinics, or does that violate the First Amendment rights of “sidewalk counselors” who hope to persuade patients not to end their pregnancies?

The justices could rule that the quiet zone law was too broad, but they might go further and outlaw any buffer zone that covers public sidewalks.

∎ Unions and free speech

Did Illinois violate the rights of home health care workers when it authorized them to be unionized and allowed their union to require workers to either join or pay a fee to cover the cost of collective bargaining?

The court could rule narrowly in this case, but anti-union advocates hope the justices will strike down forced fees for public-sector workers, which would significantly weaken unions.

∎ Smartphones and police searches

Can police who make an arrest examine a suspect’s smartphone, or does such a search without a warrant violate the Fourth Amendment?

During oral arguments, the justices seemed to be looking for a way to permit such searches, but only in cases involving serious crimes.

∎ TV streaming and broadcast licenses

Can Aereo rent tiny antennas to customers and use them to stream over-the-air broadcast signals without paying licensing fees?

A victory for Aereo could reshape the broadcast and cable TV industries, but the court seems likely to rule that the company is violating the Copyright Act.

∎ Congress and presidential power

Did President Obama exceed his power when he bypassed the Senate and filled three seats on the National Labor Relations Board using a recess appointment?

Since World War II, presidents have regularly made such appointments during Senate breaks, but the court is likely to rule Obama went too far. The effect of the case will depend on how much the court reins in the presidential authority.

∎ False statements and free speech

Can Ohio and 15 other states enforce laws that forbid “false statements” about candidates?

The challengers, a group of abortion opponents, had used billboards to criticize an Ohio Democrat in a way that he maintained was false. The justices may decide the case on narrow procedural grounds that would stop short of ruling on the challengers’ free-speech claim.

∎ Greenhouse gases and power plants

Did Obama’s environmental regulators stretch the law by requiring that permits for new power plants include measures to reduce carbon emissions?

Industry groups are likely to win this case, but a key issue will be whether the ruling sweeps broadly enough to affect the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced climate change rules for existing power plants.