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The justices determine which cases to take They never explain the reason for their choices Whether or not a case is accepted strikes me as a rather subjective decision made up in part of intuition and in part of legal judgment Rehnquist wrote in The Supreme Court How It Was How It Is his 1987 book about the court Important factors he said are whether the legal question has been decided differently by two lower courts and needs resolution by the high court whether a lower-court decision conflicts with an existing Supreme Court ruling and whether the issue could have significance beyond the two parties in the case For example the justices likely accepted the sexual-harassment case brought by Paula Jones a former Arkansas state employee against President Clinton because it will test the important question of whether a president should have to defend himself against a lawsuit while in office They also agreed for the term that began Monday to review a case challenging the constitutionality of a federal handgun-registration law no doubt in part because lower courts are divided about whether the law which requires sheriffs to check a purchasers background unconstitutionally burdens local officials But the justices do not automatically take on all cases posing significant societal dilemmas Last June for example they refused to hear one on the legality of college affirmative action programs The case did not garner the four votes needed to accept a petition for review and to schedule oral arguments on it Before those votes are cast in the closed-door session however a case must pass muster with several of the youngest least experienced lawyers in America -- the 36 law clerks who serve the nine individual justices and who in effect are their staff for a term These clerks most often four to a justice usually are recent law school graduates and typically the cream of their Ivy League schools It is the clerks who first
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