Supreme Court begins new term

by Brooke Hart
NBC News

Several justices celebrated Red Mass Sunday, a ceremony for those seeking justice, and this term some contentious cases come before them.

The Court revisits the death penalty, in the case of a death row inmate in Kentucky who says the lethal injection method used there, and in most states, causes pain, cruel and unusual punishment that should be banned.

"If you're going to execute me, do it in a manner that is as humane as possible," says Death Row Prisoner Ralph Baze.

Legal experts say the case could bring U.S. executions to a halt till it's decided.

Under court scrutiny, too, is a voting rights law in Indiana, requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Republican defenders say it aims to combat fraud.

"This bill addresses in-person cheating," says Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.

Democrats say it helps keep the poor and the elderly from voting, those who tend not to have photo identification and tend to vote democrat.

"There are a lot of other states that either passed a similar law or considering similar laws and it was important to resolve it before the 2008 election so we would not have people denied the right to vote who are properly to be allowed the right to vote," says Steve Shapiro, ACLU.

The Court also considers whether terror suspects held Guantanamo Bay Cuba should be able to challenge their detention in court.

Congress has said no.

And the court weighs Washington D.C.'s ban on handguns.

"What we ban is a weapon that is uniquely dangerous," says Washington D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer.

Opponents say the constitution is on their side.

"You want to protect yourself if you need to," says Washington D.C. Resident Rich Heller.

A string of polarizing issues that seems certain to test Chief Justice John Roberts in his goal of a more decisive court that seems less ideologically split.