Factbox: Free-speech, business cases await U.S. court pick

Mon May 10, 2010 10:43am EDT

(Reuters) - Violent video games, protests at funerals for U.S. military members, a Swiss watch copyright dispute and vaccine-maker liability are among the cases that Solicitor General Elena Kagan would confront if approved for the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama nominated Kagan on Monday to replace outgoing liberal Justice John Paul Stevens. The retirement of the 90-year-old Stevens will take effect at the end of the current court term in late June.

For its upcoming term, the court has agreed to decide a number of major cases. They include:

VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES

* Whether a California law banning the sale and rental of violent video games to minors violated constitutional free-speech rights.

It will mark the first time the high court will hear and decide a case involving government regulation of video games.

The Supreme Court will consider whether violent material in video games should be subject to the same legal standard the courts have used to prohibit the sale of sexually explicit material to minors.

ANTI-GAY PROTESTS AT MILITARY FUNERALS

* Whether constitutional free-speech rights protected anti-gay protests by members of a Kansas church at funerals for U.S. military members killed in Iraq.

The protesters argued their message and picketing were constitutionally protected, even though it involved a private family funeral.

The church members have picketed at funerals of U.S. military members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of their religious view that God is punishing America for its tolerance of gays and lesbians.

COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

* A copyright infringement dispute between Costco Wholesale Corp, the top U.S. warehouse club operator, and a Swatch Group unit over imported Swiss-made watches.

Costco obtained the watches through a series of transactions. Swatch Group's Omega unit first sold the watches to authorized distributors overseas. Unidentified third parties bought the watches and sold them to a New York company, which in turn sold them to Costco.

The case has important implications for discount sellers like Costco and other companies that form the annual market estimated at more than $50 billion for goods that are purchased abroad, then imported and resold without permission of the manufacturer.

BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR NASA EMPLOYEES

* Whether NASA background investigations, required of scientists, engineers and all other employees at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, violated their privacy rights.

All positions at the laboratory, owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and operated by the California Institute of Technology, are filled by contract employees. Employees who do not agree to the checks could lose their jobs.

The ruling could affect the background investigation process used by the federal government for more than 50 years.

LAWSUITS AGAINST VACCINE MANUFACTURERS

* Whether a federal law protected vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits in state court seeking to hold them liable for damages.

The case involved a lawsuit by the parents of a child who suffered seizures after her third dose of a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, or DTP, vaccine. They sued the manufacturer for alleged design defects in the vaccine.

The ruling could affect about 5,000 federal claims alleging a link between childhood vaccines and neurological damage like autism, and whether those claimants can also seek damages under state law.

(Reporting by James Vicini; Editing by Alistair Bell and Stacey Joyce)

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