Business As Usual

The Supreme Court convened Monday at a different location for the first time since its building opened in 1935 after discovering anthrax in its basement mailroom.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in brief remarks from the bench, confirmed it marked the first time the nation's highest court had met outside its building and said the justices would convene again Tuesday at the ceremonial courtroom at a U.S. district court a few blocks away.

Click here to read more about the anthrax scare.

Despite the change of venue, the justices went about business as usual.

The court agreed to hear the case of a man who wanted an oil refinery job his own doctor said could kill him.

Mario Echazabal sued Chevron Corp. under the Americans With Disabilities Act, claiming he should have gotten the job despite a chronic case of hepatitis C.

Doctors who examined Echazabal said exposure to chemicals at the refinery would speed the deterioration of Echazabal's liver, and that a large exposure from a plant fire or other emergency could kill him.

A Supreme Court decision in the case could help clarify what duty an employer has to potential employees with disabilities. The landmark 1990 ADA says employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and cannot discriminate.

Chevron withdrew a 1995 job offer to Echazabal for work at the company's El Segundo, Calif., refinery. Echazabal sued in 1997, but a federal judge threw out his case.

He appealed, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Chevron could not claim that the threat posed to Echazabal's health was enough to disqualify him.

Chevron appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Echazabal's medical condition puts him outside the protection of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The federal anti-bias law mandates equal treatment for qualified workers, no matter their disability.

The nation's top court also agreed to decide if the government can regulate the mixing of drugs at local pharmacies.

The Bush administration had urged the court to take the case, arguing there were serious health implications in allowing unregulated drug-mixing.

The government has wide inspection authority over drug makers in their plants, but this case involves pharmacies that dilute or alter prescription drugs to make them easier to consume or for use by a child or someone with allergies.

The practice, known as compounding, is done by pharmacists or physicians.

Congress changed guidelines for compounding in 1997, and the government was sued in Nevada by pharmacies that frequently mix drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration contends it can regulate companies that advertise mixing services or have sales personnel.

A federal appeals court said the FDA could instead require disclaimers stating that compounded drugs being advertised had not been subjected to the FDA's aproval process.

Unrestricted mixing "would seriously impair the integrity of the drug approval process," the Bush administration told the Supreme Court.

In cases they refused to hear, the court rejected a challenge to a state law requiring schoolchildren to observe a daily minute of silence.

The court did not comment in turning down an appeal from opponents who claim Virginia's minute of silence is an unconstitutional government encouragement of classroom prayer in public schools.

The state says the minute of silence does not violate the separation of church and state, because children may meditate or stare out the window for 60 seconds if they choose, so long as they are quiet.

The court's action means the daily minute of silence will continue, and opponents are left with no immediate options to challenge it.

The Supreme Court refused to revive an Indianapolis law requiring parental consent before children may play violent arcade games, which a lower court struck down as an unconstitutional damper on free speech.

The court did not comment in rejecting an appeal over the law requiring that parents accompany children who want to play certain video games. Parents must also give formal consent before children may use the machines.

The law, which backers said is apparently the first of its kind, bars people under 18 from such games unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Under the measure, the city could have fined arcade owners $200 per day for each violation.

Indianapolis also requires coin-operated games featuring graphic violence or strong sexual content to have warning labels and be kept at least 10 feet from any nonviolent game machines. The games must also be separated by a curtain or wall so unaccompanied children cannot see them.

The mayor and other city leaders asked the Supreme Court to decide if the video games are protected by free-speech guarantees, and whether such speech should be judged by a different standard in the interests of protecting children.

The city also asked the court to examine whether those under 18 have a First Amendment right to play the video games without a parent's consent.

In other court action:

  • A Florida man fired after giving Bibles to co-workers and praying with them lost his religious harassment case before the Supreme Court, but justices refused to block a trial on the termination.

    Conservative groups wanted the court to use the case to provide guidelines for workplace witnessing. The court declined, without comment.

    Kenneth Weiss offered a Bible to a Muslim co-worker at a medical lab in Fort Lauderdale and called a lesbian colleague's attention to Scripture that describes homosexuality as "vile" and "unseemly." The born-again Christian also "laid hands" on ill co-workers and prayed over a malfunctioning machine.

  • Washington politicians don't have to worry about their paychecks. The court turned back a constitutional challenge to congressional slary increases dating back a decade.

    The court refused to consider reinstating Republican Rep. Bob Schaffer's lawsuit seeking to block yearly cost-of-living adjustments for Congress. The latest increase, earlier this month, bumped up congressional salaries to about $150,000.

    Schaffer, of Colorado, contends the increases violate the 27th Amendment, which forbids congressmen from increasing their salary during their term.

    Founding father James Madison proposed requiring lawmakers to face the electorate before pocketing any extra pay they approved. That amendment was not ratified until 1992. By then, Washington policy-makers had gotten out of the politically unpopular situation of voting on their own pay raises. Instead, increases of up to 5 percent a year are automatic, based on economic conditions.

  • White firefighters lost their appeal challenging an affirmative action plan to promote minorities into the top ranks of the Chicago Fire Department.

    A union and 91 white firefighters claim the whites were passed over for promotions in order to increase the ranks of blacks and Hispanics in higher-level jobs. At issue for the Supreme Court was whether the promotion program, begun in 1987, was unconstitutionally open-ended.

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