Explaining the most influential Supreme Court cases of the past term
When the Supreme Court of the United States decides to hear a case, that case is inherently important. Many decisions, though, that the highest court in the land handed down in its most recent term are not only important, but consequential. They change the way corporations do business, alter the relationship between police and the communities they serve, determine the fate of thousands of immigrants, or impact the lives of everyday Americans.
The most recent term, which ran for eight months between November 2017 and June 2018, witnessed dramatic and highly anticipated rulings on subjects like gay rights, religious freedom, police excess, immigration, abortion, free speech, elections, human rights, and workers’ rights. Many were hotly contested 5-4 rulings handed down by a bitterly divided court. Some were unanimous rulings while others paired reliably conservative and liberal justices as unlikely bedfellows, in both majority and dissenting opinions.
The Supreme Court has the ultimate say in the Constitutionality of American laws and serves as the final forum of appeal in both criminal and civil cases. Of the dozens of decisions the High Court handed down during its past term, the following 25 were especially dramatic, surprising, far reaching, or consequential.
Trump v. Hawaii
Decided on June 26, 2018, Trump v. Hawaii resulted in a 5-4 split along ideological lines. The more conservative members of the Supreme Court upheld a central component of the Trump administration's controversial immigration policy: a complete ban on travel to the U.S. by people from several Muslim-majority countries. The ruling also validated the administration's claim that the executive branch has wide authority to establish such broad policies.
Murphy v. NCAA
On May 14, 2018, Justice Elena Kagan broke from the court's liberal bloc to join a 6-3 majority that struck down a federal law that banned most states from legalizing sports betting. The Murphy v. NCAA decision determined that a 1992 prohibition violated the "commandeering" provision of the 10th Amendment, which prevents the federal government from compelling the states to enforce federal law.
Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky
On June 14, 2018, two of the High Court's more liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, joined the court's conservative bloc for a 7-2 decision that overturned a total ban on political attire and messages at polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the court agreed with the ban's challengers that the rule was too broad, too vague, and infringed on limited free speech.
South Dakota v. Wayfair
The 5-4 South Dakota v. Wayfair decisions saw two defections: conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the dissent and liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority. In a hugely impactful decision for online shoppers and sellers alike, the court ruled that states can force internet-based merchants to collect sales tax from buyers in the state, even if the company has no physical presence there.
Ohio v. American Express
Ohio v. American Express was another 5-4 split on a court that was once again sharply divided. The division on the case about the nature of retail purchases occured along strict ideological lines. It was decided in favor of the company, granting American Express a huge victory. The cooperation emerged from the antitrust challenge with a court-issued validation of part of its core business model: preventing retailers from giving buyers incentives to make purchases with cheaper credit cards.
Lucia v. SEC
On June 21, 2018, justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ginsburg dissented against a 7-2 majority ruling in Lucia v. SEC. The court ruled that in-house judges at the Securities and Exchange Commission had been inappropriately appointed and, in yet another ruling bolstering the power of the president, should be held more accountable to the executive branch.
Benisek v. Lamone
The case of Benisek v. Lamone attempted to tackle the controversial policy of partisan gerrymandering, in which one political party draws redistricting maps in a way that dilutes the vote in regions that are favorable to the other party. The court's inconclusive ruling on June 18 was underwhelming. It dealt solely with the actions of the appeals court, not the merits of the case, leaving the generationally unsolved question of gerrymandering open for another day and future debate.
Gill v. Whitford
On the same day as The Benisek v. Lamone gerrymandering ruling—June 18—the court ruled on Gill v. Whitford, another case testing the legitimacy of partisan gerrymandering, this time regarding maps drawn by Republicans in Wisconsin. The Supreme Court once again disappointed by punting the case back to the district court, missing its second opportunity in one day to finally tie up the political loose ends of gerrymandering in American elections.
Abbott v. Perez
For the Supreme Court in its most recent term, the third time turned out to be the charm for partisan and racial gerrymandering—and that charm came in the form of the June 25 Abbott v. Perez ruling. In one of the year's most bitterly contested cases, the court, split 5-4 along ideological lines, overturned a Texas district court's ruling that said the state's redistricting maps were racially discriminatory both in intent and outcome, and therefore invalid. The Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled that by not presuming that the state acted in good faith, the district court unfairly shifted the burden of proof to the state.
Epic Systems v. Lewis
Detractors of the ruling in Epic Systems v. Lewis worry the new precedent will weaken what they claim are already dwindling protections for workers. The decision, which was handed down in a 5-4 split along ideological lines, paved the way for employers to legally forbid their employees from joining together in shared legal claims about conditions in the workplace. Instead, employers can now force workers into individual arbitration, which is much less advantageous for the employee.2018 All rights reserved.