WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court yesterday took on an issue of keen interest to travelers, agreeing to consider a plea that it take away the constitutional right to ask for money or hand out leaflets in airport terminals.
The outcome of the case is likely to affect soliciting in other public places, such as subway, railroad and bus stations.
That was one of seven new questions the court agreed to answer. On each issue, the court sped up its processes for reviewing the cases.
It was unusual for the court to issue such orders on a Friday. It did so to fill up a nearly empty docket of cases for hearings in March.
Another major dispute was ready for the court's action yesterday, but that one was left untouched for the time being: the question of whether the court is ready to overturn the 1973 ruling, Roe vs. Wade, establishing a woman's constitutional right to abortion.
There was no explanation for the court's failure to grant or deny review of two appeals, in a Pennsylvania case, testing its current view on the historic, and always controversial, Roe ruling. Legal experts cautioned that the lack of action meant nothing of significance. Those appeals remain pending and could be acted upon later -- still in time for a final ruling before next summer.
The new cases that the justices did agree to decide are likely to lead to significant, and controversial, rulings in the current term.
The issue over fund-raising and leafletting inside airport terminals has never been considered directly by the Supreme Court. But a number of lower courts have established a broad right to solicit money and pass out literature in the public areas of terminals, and the justices have not disturbed those rulings.
Last February, however, a federal appeals court in New York said that it would no longer uphold a right to ask for money in terminals, even though it declared that distribution of literature could continue. That lower court said it was acting on what it understood to be the Supreme Court's present view limiting access to public places.
The case involved activities of the Hare Krishna movement at terminals at three major airports in the New York City area: Newark, LaGuardia and JFK International.
As the case reached the Supreme Court, it poses a test of whether there remains any constitutional right to do any kind of solicitation in airport terminals, other than selling food and other commercial items.
In another major controversy put on the docket, the justices will decide whether the U.S. government may kidnap foreigners in their own countries and bring them to the United States for trial for crimes under U.S. law, when the foreigners' own government objects to the seizure because it was not done under an extradition treaty.
A federal appeals court ruled that a U.S. kidnapping abroad, in violation of an extradition treaty, nullifies the U.S. government's right to try that person in American courts. The ruling came in the case of a Mexican doctor, Dr. Humberto Alvarez-Machain of Guadalajara.
He was kidnapped by Mexicans hired by U.S. drug agents, who had been seeking the doctor for his alleged role in the kidnapping, torture and murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena in Mexico in 1985.
The court also promised to rule on the power of county and city governments to charge fees that will cover their police costs and other expenses when streets, sidewalks, parks and other public property are used for rallies, parades, or demonstrations.
That issue arises out of a series of mass rallies in the small town of Cumming, Ga., by those for and against having a federal holiday to mark the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The court also took on two different disputes about dumping wastes: one involving the constitutionality of a state law barring dumping of any wastes in a county if the wastes came from somewhere else, and the other involving the constitutionality of a 1985 federal law that forces states to develop sites for dumping radioactive wastes, and punishes them if they fail to do so.