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Supreme Court’s docket is deep in major cases, and chances for change

WASHINGTON — After back-to-back terms ending in historic rulings that riveted the nation, the Supreme Court might have been expected to return to its usual diet of routine cases that rarely engage the public.

Instead, the court’s new term, which starts Monday, will feature an extraordinary series of cases on consequential constitutional issues, including campaign contributions, abortion rights, affirmative action, public prayer and presidential power. An unusually large number of the new cases put important precedents at risk.

The new term will include a run of cases on the structure of the political process, including ones on the balance of power between the branches of government and the role of money in politics.

One case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281, is a test of President Barack Obama’s ability to bypass the Senate by making recess appointments. It has partisan overtones reminiscent of the clash over the constitutionality of his health care law.

A second case continues a signature project of the court, which has been subjecting campaign finance laws to skeptical scrutiny in a half-dozen decisions, including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which in 2010 freed corporations and unions to spend without limit in candidate elections. The new case moves the court’s focus from such independent spending to caps on direct contributions from individuals to candidates and political parties.

The court has two cases concerning abortion on its docket. One of them, McCullen v. Coakley, No. 12-1168, is a challenge to a Massachusetts law that restricted protests near reproductive health care facilities. The second abortion-related case concerns whether states may limit the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

The justices will soon decide whether to hear a new challenge to Obama’s health care law. The cases concern the law’s requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The term will get off to a fast start, with the court hearing the campaign finance case Tuesday.

—Adam Liptak, The New York Times

Muslims in China say bias is increasing

KASHGAR, China — Job seekers looking for opportunities in this ancient oasis town in China’s far western Xinjiang region would seem to have ample options, based on a quick glance at a local help-wanted website. The Kashgar Cultural Center has an opening for an experienced dance choreographer, the prefectural Communist Party office is hiring a driver and nearby Shule County needs an archivist.

But these and dozens of other job openings share one caveat: Ethnic Uighurs, the Muslim, Turkic-speaking people who make up nearly 90 percent of Kashgar’s population, need not apply.

Such discrimination, common across the region, is one of the many indignities China’s 10 million Uighurs face in a society that increasingly casts them as untrustworthy and prone to religious extremism. Uighurs are largely frozen out of the region’s booming gas and oil industry, airport jobs are mostly reserved for Han applicants, and Uighur truck drivers cannot obtain the licenses required to haul fuel, an unwritten rule based on the fear that oil and gas tankers could easily be turned into weapons, according to several trucking companies.

This strategically pivotal expanse of desert and snow-draped mountains that borders several Central Asian nations is tightly controlled by Beijing. Top government positions as well as critical spots in the sprawling security apparatus are dominated by Han Chinese.

After a summer of violence that claimed at least 100 lives, analysts, human rights advocates and even a handful of Chinese academics are raising alarms over what they call repressive policies that are fueling increased alienation and radicalization among Uighurs, many of whom subscribe to a moderate brand of Sunni Islam. By failing to consider the root causes of Uighur discontent, Beijing could unwittingly radicalize a generation of young people, said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who is based in Hong Kong.

—Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times

Some civilians return to military academies

WASHINGTON — U.S. military academies got some relief from their government shutdown struggles over the weekend as the Pentagon reinstated most of its furloughed civilian employees, allowing professors and other staff members to return to work Monday.

With the shutdown approaching the one-week mark and lawmakers suggesting that a budget deal was still out of reach, a Naval Academy spokesman, Cmdr. John Schofield, released a statement Sunday saying most of the school’s faculty and staff members would be allowed to return to work immediately. The Military Academy at West Point posted a notice on its website recalling furloughed workers who had not been otherwise notified by their supervisors. Local news reports in Colorado said the Air Force Academy had called back more than 950 of its 1,000 furloughed workers.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that nearly all of the department’s 350,000 civilian employees would also be exempted from the furlough under the law guaranteeing pay to those in the military. Government lawyers advised the department that it could “eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” including those who work in training.

The announcement means midshipmen and cadets will be able to return to their normal schedules. The academies had to suspend classes last week, even as military personnel rushed to cover for their furloughed civilian counterparts. The Naval and Air Force Academies were forced to cancel 20 percent of their classes, unable to provide substitutes in laboratory and language courses in particular.

Because nearly all of its employees are civilians, the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., closed when the government shut down last Tuesday, moving up fall break in an effort to minimize the disruption to its academic schedule.

—Emmarie Huetteman, The New York Times