WASHINGTON - At precisely 10 a.m. on Oct. 4, Supreme Court marshal Alfred Wong will bang a gavel and announce the nine robed justices as they enter the courtroom.
Wong will then chant: "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable court!" "Oyez," or "hear ye, " means pay attention - and municipal officials would do well to heed that advice as the court opens its 1993-94 session The upcoming term holds the potential to significantly reshape the relationship between the federal government and municipalities.
Although the court's last term was something of a sleeper for municipal interests, with no real blockbuster rulings, the coming session promises to be more lively.
In cases ranging from challenges to a state's flexibility in offering property tax exemptions to the latitude public employers have to fire employees for insubordinate speech, the court's docket is full of disputes that offer the justices an opportunity to clarify the boundaries of state autonomy.
Results from the past several terms have been equivocal; while state and local governments have won some key victories, the wins ave been offset by losses in other cases.
But now, the high court may take a firmer stance. A bellwether of how municipalities will fare this term could emerge from several cases involving the vexing issue of waste disposal.
One, City of Chicago v. Environmental Defense Fund Inc., asks the court to decide whether the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires municipalities to treat ash from waste-to-energy facilities as a hazardous waste.
Although the issue may strike some as arcane, the implications could prove financially devastating to municipalities. If the court decides that the ash must be treated as a hazardous waste, the decision could substantially increase municipal costs and render resource recovery facilities economically unviable.
Another case involving waste, C&A Carbone Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown, N.Y., asks the court to decide whether the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause forbids localities from requiring trash disposal only at a designated local facility. The court's disposition of that case could jeopardize bonds issued for some solid-waste disposal facilities.
* Other disputes of interest to municipal officials include:
* Waters v. Churchill. In this case, the court is being asked to determine whether the Constitution's First Amendment prohibits public employers from dismissing employees who make negative remarks about working conditions.
* Hagen v. Utah. The dispute invites the justices to ascertain when federal laws shrink the boundaries of Indian reservations, a matter of keen interest in Western states where reservations are plentiful. Land designated as an Indian reservation generally is outside the jurisdiction of a state.
* BFP v. Resolution Trust Corp. The justices are being asked to decide the circumstances under which federal bankruptcy courts can review foreclosure sales conducted under state law. Municipal interests see the case as important because states traditionally have had the power to set law for property transactions and to define property relationships.
* Oregon Department of Revenue v. ACF Industries. This case presents the question of whether states are allowed under federal law to grant property tax exemptions to classes of property not owned or used by interstate railroads.
In addition to reviewing cases already accepted for argument during the coming term, the justices also will plow through thousands of petitions seeking review of lower court rulings, many of which will involve issues of importance to state and local governments.
So when Alfred Wong talks Oct. 4, municipal officials should listen. Oyez!