A case in which the Supreme Court is being asked to overturn its landmark legalization of abortion is one of five anticipated rulings separating the Supreme Court from its three-month summer recess.
Among the five is a case over government-sponsored religious displays that could move the barriers on the separation of church and state.The possibility remains that one or more of the five cases in which rulings are pending will not be decided Thursday, expected to be the last day of the 1988-89 term.
The justices could order that one or more of them be held over and reargued next term, which begins in October. If that occurs, a decision likely would not be announced until 1990. In every Supreme Court term since 1977, at least one case has been held over for reargument.
There is also the chance the court could take the highly unusual step of leaving the announcement of a decision on any of the five cases until Friday or an even later date.
The last day of the term is also traditionally the day justices have chosen to announce retirement. Three justices who have passed their 80th birthdays - William J. Brennan, who is 83, and Harry Blackmun and Thurgood Marshall, both 80 - are considered the most likely candidates for retirements.
The religion case, like all others this year, has been overshadowed by a Missouri dispute in which the justices are being asked to reverse the court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
But a controversy over displaying a Christmas nativity scene and a Hanukkah menorah at government buildings in Pittsburgh provides Justice Anthony M. Kennedy his first opportunity to rule on a topic that has so closely divided the court in recent years.
At issue are displays of a Christmas nativity scene inside the Allegheny County Courthouse and a Hanukkah menorah on the front steps of the City-County Building a few blocks away.
The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote in a 1984 decision, allowed communities to include religious symbols in officially sponsored holiday displays.
The 1984 ruling in a Pawtucket, R.I., case involved a nativity scene surrounded by secular symbols such as Santa Claus, reindeer and snowmen. The Pittsburgh creche had been displayed by itself.
The other three cases in which decisions are pending include:
-A free-speech dispute over a New York state ban on some commercial activities in dormitory rooms. A federal appeals court ruled that students' rights were violated when college officials barred a cookware company from conducting its sales pitches in dorm rooms.
-A significant controversy of interest to any state in which an Indian reservation is located. At issue in a case from Washington state is whether Indian tribes may control, through tribal zoning laws, the use of land owned by non-Indians within a reservation's boundaries.
-A pair of cases from Arkansas and Florida in which the justices must decide whether businesses that successfully challenge state taxes are entitled to collect refunds on taxes paid before they were invalidated.