Video: High court faces hot-button issues

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/6/2005 7:58:19 PM ET 2005-10-06T23:58:19

WASHINGTON — In the months to come, the Roberts court will likely confront the tactics employed by the Bush administration in the war on terror, the future of money in politics and how far police can go in conducting searches.

But in coming years, many legal scholars believe privacy will occupy more of the court's docket, as Americans pour information about themselves into e-mails and online data banks, while generating computer records of their movements with cell phones and highway toll passes.

"All of this information that's being collected about us," says privacy advocate James Dempsey, "increasingly, the government, of course, is seeking access to that information. And the rules just aren't there."

Even the privacy of a person's innermost thoughts may come before the court, as police seek to exploit brain imaging technology as an advanced lie detector.

Future cases are likely to come from the frontiers of medicine, too, especially if Congress seeks further controls on research, as scientists push harder against the boundaries on such sensitive issues as cloning.

"When does life begin?" asks Georgetown University Law School professor Lawrence Gustin. "How much interference can we do with science? How do you weigh the balance is going to be a very hard issue for the Roberts court to have to deal with."

And the justices could find themselves debating whether their terms should be limited. Some legal scholars say more frequent nominations would keep retirements from being such a crisis and prevent any single group of justices from becoming too powerful.

Key 2005-2006 Supreme Court cases"In a democratic society, there ought to be some turnover," says Duke University Law School professor Paul Carrington. "There ought to be some opportunity for other people to move along and exercise this enormous power that they have."

Limiting terms would require amending the Constitution, because justices serve for life — the only high court members in a major democracy who do.

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