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In a week of dinosaurs, Supreme Court proves it isn't

Unlike the president and Congress, the Supreme Court fades from the news for weeks at a time. But sooner or later, it comes roaring back with a vengeance.

Last week, in a series of major cases, the Supreme Court ruled that:

Public schools can't exclude groups or speakers just because they have a religious message.

Police, while patting down suspects, can seize objects that feel like contraband.

"Hate crime" laws that dole out extra punishment to crimes based in bigotry are constitutional.

A Florida city's ban on animal sacrifice violates the First Amendment freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, the president got ready to name the first Supreme Court justice chosen by a Democrat in a quarter century to replace the retiring Byron White. Eight of the nine justices were chosen by Republican presidents.

At week's end the president was said to be leaning toward Stephen Breyer, 54, a federal appeals judge in Boston, described as "moderate to liberal." The president was busy with the U.N. action in Somalia and put off a choice until this week.

Apparently left in the lurch was Bruce Babbitt, the interior secretary, whose name had been leaked as a possible court choice earlier in the week. But environmentalists like him and pushed to keep him in his old job. "I can handle my enemies," Babbitt said ruefully, "but I have a hard time fending off my friends this time around."

Last Sunday was the 49th anniversary of D-Day. That morning another ship smuggling Chinese refugees ran aground near New York, and hundreds leapt into the surf to struggle for shore. At least seven died. A police officer said it looked like a movie "about the invasion of Normandy."

Texas welcomed its first female U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison. She is a Republican, and the readers of tea leaves said her victory shows dissatisfaction with the White House. Meanwhile, Los Angeles elected its first GOP mayor in 30 years, millionaire Richard Riordan.

We learned that some American airlines are giving their passengers less fresh air to save money. An airline official said the air was still "better than you would get in an office building or a crowded department store." Hmmm.

Americans love to buy things, and two of their favorite retail institutions joined forces to make it easier. The Home Shopping Network will start taking telephone orders for Macy's.

In Rhode Island, the governor admitted making $30,000 in paternity payments over the years. In Alaska, the state will proceed with a kill of 75 to 150 wolves, despite protests, in an attempt to rebuild the caribou population.

In Washington, the government said it would make restaurants start backing up health claims printed on their menus. President Clinton, under pressure, all but abandoned his plans for an "energy tax." And the Census Bureau reported that ethnic minorities are actually the majority in more than 2,000 counties, cities and towns.

News from the domestic front: Mia Farrow won custody of the three children she shares with Woody Allen, who the judge called "self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive." And that 1980s icon of greed, Ivan Boesky, out of prison and broke, won $20-million and annual payments of $180,000 from his ex-wife. Only fair, Boesky said, since he had made her "rich beyond her wildest imaginings."

In a week that the much-hyped dinosaur film Jurassic Park opened, it was good to be reminded that truth is always stranger than fiction.

As if on cue, scientists announced they had found a dinosaur egg with a fossilized embryo and had found real dinosaur DNA in the stomachs of prehistoric insects preserved in amber. Don't worry; cloning is a long way off, if ever possible at all.

But when the history of the human race is written, the biggest news of the week may have come from the stars. Scientists said they are now all but certain our galaxy is much larger than previously believed because of unseen "dark matter" and _ in a colossal act of cosmic violence _ may be gobbling up the galaxy next door.

And that's not all. The University of California at Berkeley, which has been scanning the heavens for the last 14 months in search of alien life, reported that so far it has received 164 unexplained radio signals. Stay tuned.