By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Joshua Banka died in his bathroom, surrounded by the drugs that consumed him.
A baggie of heroin sat near the sink. Several bottles contained oxycodone tablets and other potent painkillers. Syringes littered the room.
Now, the sordid scene discovered in April 2010 by officers in the town of Nevada, Iowa, provides the backdrop for high-minded Supreme Court consideration. The Iowa case is one of more than 40 already scheduled for the court's new term, which starts Monday, Oct. 7, and will last -- like its roller-coaster predecessors -- through next June.
"They all seem to be action-packed in one way or another," said John Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy think tank.
For the convicted Iowa drug dealer, Marcus Burrage, now serving 20 years in a federal prison in Texas, the coming Banka case presents a crucial chance to secure earlier release. The case could also be key for other accused dealers, as justices could determine what prosecutors must prove to secure conviction on a charge of distributing a drug that causes death. Put simply, it's a question of testing the cause-and-effect connection between drug and death.
By the time the court's 2013 term expires, though, the case called Burrage v. United States is likely to be eclipsed by others of more sweeping import. In coming months, the nine justices will:
| Revisit affirmative action, assessing whether Michigan voters went too far when they amended the state constitution to prohibit race-based or gender-based preferences in public university admissions.
| Potentially unwind campaign finance reform, by challenging the aggregate contribution limits that constrain how much total money individuals can donate to federal candidates.
| Consider, in separate cases, political prayers and presidential appointments.
It's far too early to call the coming term a blockbuster. But with the court likely to docket an additional 30 or so cases before it's done, there are definite history-making possibilities.