By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term on Monday in low-key fashion, still down a justice for the foreseeable future because of the Republican-led Senate's refusal to act on President Barack Obama's nominee to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia.
The court, opening its term that runs through June, convened as usual on the first Monday in October, although three of the eight justices were absent to observe the Jewish new year holiday. The court will hear its first oral arguments on Tuesday.
The court announced action on hundreds of appeals that had piled up over the summer.
It declined the Obama administration's request that it rehear a major immigration case, which the justices split on 4-4 in June, once the court has a full complement of nine justices. The administration had sought to revive the president's plan, blocked by lower courts, to spare from deportation millions of immigrants in the country illegally.
That tie vote was possible because of the vacancy left by Scalia's Feb. 13 death.
"Republicans in the Senate need to confirm a ninth justice to the Supreme Court so that the business of the American people can be conducted at the Supreme Court," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
The court also declined to take up the contentious issue of pay for college athletes, leaving in place a lower court's ruling that the governing body for collegiate sports violated antitrust law by limiting athlete compensation.
The justices refused to consider reopening an investigation into possible wrongdoing by Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign to withstand a 2012 recall election.
They declined to hear 87-year-old former Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's appeal of his 2013 conviction for committing or ordering the murders of 11 people.
They also refused to hear a Washington Redskins' appeal challenging a federal decision to cancel the National Football League team's trademarks after finding the name disparaging to Native Americans. The court last week took up a separate case that could decide the Redskins' situation.
The most closely watched case set for oral arguments this week comes on Wednesday, when the court will hear an insider trading case that could make it more difficult for prosecutors to bring such charges.
The justices are ideologically split with four liberals and four conservatives after decades of conservative leaning. Senate Republicans have refused to move forward on the Democratic president's nominee to replace Scalia, appeals court judge Merrick Garland, saying Obama's successor should make the appointment.
If left to the next president, the appointment would be made by the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election pitting Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton. That would mean the vacancy would remain at least until early 2017 and the new justice would miss most of the term's cases.
The court's public session in its ornate chamber lasted just a few minutes as Chief Justice John Roberts announced the beginning of the term. Jewish justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were absent.
The next president could be called upon to fill even more vacancies. Three justices are 78 or older: liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg (83), conservative Anthony Kennedy (80) and liberal Stephen Breyer (78).
Ginsburg, a justice since 1993 who publicly criticized Trump in July, indicated in a radio interview she is in no rush to step down.
"I will retire when it's time," Ginsburg told National Public Radio. "And when is it time? When I can't do the job full-steam."
(Reporting by Lawence Hurley; Additional reporting by Scott Malone and Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Will Dunham)