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Supreme Court cases: Biggest rulings to shape the 21st century

Just two days before the United States Supreme Court's first session anniversary, President Donald Trump selected Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to fill the court's vacant seat.

The Supreme Court met for the first time on Feb. 2, 1790, in New York City, with Chief Justice John Jay presiding. Since then the court has made an indelible mark on U.S. history, from rulings on slavery and abortion rights to deciding the 2000 presidential race and the legality of gay marriage.

Gorsuch, once confirmed by the Senate, will restore a conservative majority to the Supreme Court, which has been split with four conservatives and four liberals on the bench since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

As the nation prepares for a new justice, take a look back at some of the biggest Supreme Court rulings of the 21st century.

Bush v. Gore, 2000

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court handed
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Shawn Thew

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court handed the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. In one of the closest presidential races in U.S. history, Bush and former Vice President Al Gore were only separated by several hundred votes in the deciding state of Florida. A manual recount of ballots in several counties was ordered by the state Supreme Court, however, the U.S. Supreme Court halted that decision, ruling that a manual recount of only some counties would violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The court's majority also ruled that a manual recount could not be completed within the legal time limit.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010

The Supreme Court's decision in favor of conservative
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

The Supreme Court's decision in favor of conservative nonprofit Citizens United paved the way for unlimited campaign spending by corporations. During the 2008 Democratic primary race, Citizens United produced and sought to air a documentary that was critical of presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton. The Federal Election Commission, however, deemed the film's use violated federal laws on electioneering communications, which limited political spending by nonprofit corporations. The Supreme Court then ruled 5-4 that the laws violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 2012

The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in this case
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in this case was two-fold. While it upheld a provision in the Affordable Care Act mandating most Americans purchase health insurance as a tax, and thus constitutional, it also found that the provision expanding Medicaid was not valid as it would force states to risk losing existing funding if they did not accept the expansion, which the court said violates the 10th Amendment.

Shelby County v. Holder, 2013

The Supreme Court ruled that federal approval was
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

The Supreme Court ruled that federal approval was not needed for state and local governments to change voting laws after Shelby County in Alabama had filed a lawsuit seeking to declare Section 5 and Section 4(b) of the Voter's Rights Act unconstitutional. While Section 5 of the VRA mandated certain states and localities needed federal approval to change voter laws due to a history of discrimination, Section 4 outlined a formula that determined which states and localities fell under Section 5. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court sided with Shelby County, ruling that Section 4 was unconstitutional, which then essentially rendered Section 5 obsolete.

Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment,
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Zach Gibson

The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment, under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, guarantees the fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry and that a state must recognized a same-sex marriage that was legally licensed in another state. The Due Process Clause states that no one shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law," while the Equal Protection Clause (as the name suggests) ensures that states treat all people in its territory in the same manner under similar circumstances. The 5-4 ruling effectively made same-sex marriage legal across the United States and its territories.


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