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The most influential Supreme Court cases of the past term

  • Collins v. Virginia

    In a time when police are under unprecedented scrutiny, the Collins v. Virginia case holds especially significant meaning. With Justice Samuel Alito holding out as the sole dissenter, the court ruled in favor of a defendant who claimed that police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by searching his home's curtilage, or the area immediately surrounding his house, without a warrant. Police were looking for a stolen unique-looking motorcycle whose rider had committed traffic law violations and then evaded officers. They tracked it down to a local house where an officer lifted up a tarp partially covering what he believed to be the bike in question. On discovery that it was indeed the stolen motorcycle, he arrested the alleged driver at the home. The lifting of the tarp, the court ruled, constituted an illegal search.

  • Digital Realty Trust v. Somers

    The case of Digital Realty Trust v. Somers once again united all nine justices in a unanimous decision. In this case, which was especially relevant considering the recent slew of highly public whistleblower reports, the court ruled against an employee who was fired after reporting alleged corporate malfeasance. The logic of the justices was that the Dodd-Frank Act only affords anti-retaliation protection to people who fit the act's narrow description of a whistleblower.

  • Kisela v. Hughes

    The emotional subject of police excess has spawned protests from the streets of Washington, D.C. to NFL stadiums across the country. Kisela v. Hughes was a major ruling on this sensitive and timely subject. The court ruled that a police officer who shot a woman brandishing a knife was protected by qualified immunity. This legal doctrine shields police officers—even if they misinterpret the law or violate someone's rights—provided they didn't clearly and knowingly break the law under circumstances where a "reasonable person" could have made the same mistake.

  • National Institute of Family and Life v. Becerra

    Few topics are more politically charged than abortion, and the country's polarization on the topic was reflected in the highly contested 5-4 decision the Supreme Court handed down in the case of National Institute of Family and Life v. Becerra. The court's conservative majority sided with a group of pro-life religious organizations that challenged the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act. The court ruled that the organization's First Amendment rights were violated by the law, which required licensed clinics to tell patients about free and low-cost family planning services, including abortion and birth control, while requiring unlicensed clinics to inform their patients about their licensure status.

  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

    Few cases during the court's most recent term captured the attention of the country like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that a cake shop owner's refusal on religious grounds to provide a cake for a gay wedding did not violate the rights of the gay couple that was denied service. Requiring the owner to bake the cake, on the other hand, would have violated his rights under the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment. Despite the attention given to the Masterpiece decision, it—like so many other rulings by the court's conservative wing—was narrow in its scope.

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