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The Supreme Court is starting a new term that promises a steady stream of divisive social issues, and also brighter prospects for conservatives who suffered more losses than usual in recent months.

The justices are meeting in public Monday for the first time since a number of high-profile decisions in June that displayed passionate, sometimes barbed disagreements and suggested some bruised feelings among the nine judges.

The first case before the court involves a California woman who lost her legs in a horrific accident after she fell while attempting to board a train in Innsbruck, Austria. The issue is whether she can sue the state-owned Austrian railway in U.S. courts.

Even before the justices took the bench Monday, they rejected hundreds of appeals that piled up over the summer, including San Jose, California's bid to lure the Athletics from Oakland over the objection of Major League Baseball.

Future cases will deal with abortion, religious objections to birth control, race in college admissions and the power of public-sector unions. Cases on immigration and state restrictions on voting also could make it to the court in the next nine months.

The term will play out against the backdrop of the presidential campaign, in which some candidates are talking pointedly about the justices and the prospect of replacing some of them in the next few years. Four justices are in their 80s or late 70s, led by 82-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Commentators on the left and right say the lineup of cases suggests that conservatives will win more often than they will lose over the next few months, in contrast to the liberal side's success last term in gay marriage, health care and housing discrimination, among others.

"This term, I'd expect a return to the norm, in which the right side of the court wins the majority, but by no means all of the cases," said Georgetown University law school's Irv Gornstein.

One reason for the confidence is that, as Supreme Court lawyer John Elwood said: "This is a term of sequels." Affirmative action and union fees have been at the court in recent terms and the justices' positions are more or less known.


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