Top 10 most controversial U.S. Supreme Court cases

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Throughout American history, Supreme Court rulings have shaped the way the law is interpreted and enforced. Here is a closer look at 10 of the most controversial cases ever to make it to the Supreme Court.

Roe v. Wade

This famed court case was decided on January 22, 1973 and ruled that women are entitled to have an abortion and that is based on their right to privacy. The name Roe was actually an alias for Norma McCorvey, who was also known as Jane Roe. McCorvey was living in the state of Texas and decided show did not want a third child after having two previous children. However, Texas law prevented her from doing so. The Supreme Court vote total 7 to 2 in favor of McCorvey. The decision gave women in all 50 states the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Loving v. Virginia

This 1967 landmark case as it broke the barriers for interracial marriages. An interracial couple in Virginia were both find to a year in prison for marrying one another as it was forbidden at the time by Virginia anti-miscegenation laws. A black woman (Mildred Loving) married a white man (Richard Loving) and that was illegal at the time. The case was brought to the Supreme court and the racial integrity law that forbade this marriage was ruled unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education

Another racially charged Supreme Court case, this one addressed state laws that segregated black and white students. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ushered in a unanimous vote that declared those laws unconstitutional. The end result was the desegregation of schools throughout America based on the notion that such a system disadvantaged minority students. The ruling was met with a great deal of opposition as governors and university presidents later attempted tried to prevent black students from entering state schools.

Obergefell v. Hodges

Obergefell and Hodges may not be household names, but the 2015 ruling in this Supreme Court case granted same-sex couples the right to marry. The ruling was supported by the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause. Up until this time, there were only a select number of states that recognized the legality of same-sex marriages. This ruling required every state to legalize same-sex marriages, although it came with some stout opposition. There were individual states that attempted to challenge this ruling but any proposed bans were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Bush v. Gore

The 2000 presidential election was one of the closest in American history as the two candidates were separated by just 537 votes in the state of Florida. Since whoever won the state of Florida was going to win the presidency, the state supreme court ordered a manual recount. However, the U.S. Supreme Court superseded that decision by ruling a recount violated the fourth amendment. That ruling solidified Bush’s win and allowed him to become president, which sparked a great deal of controversy being that the race was so narrow.

Engle v. Vitale

The 1962 ruling in this case focused on the subject of prayer in public school. Prior to this ruling, it was customary for public school students to recite a prayer at the outset of every school day. The parents of a Long Island student challenged that practice, claiming that it was a violation of the First Amendment. The ruling brought in by the Supreme Court sided with the parent and that is when forcing students to recite prayers in public schools was deemed unconstitutional.

Gideon v. Wainwright

This landmark case involved Clarence Earl Gideon, who was convicted on felony charges of breaking and entering. However, he could not afford a lawyer and since his crime was not defined as a capital one, he was not provided with representation. Gideon was found guilty and while serving a prison sentence, he petitioned the Supreme Court on the basis that he did not receive a fair trial. This gained national attention and led to a 1963 Supreme Court ruling that every citizen, rich or poor, has the right to be provided with an attorney, no matter what crime they committed.

National Federation of Independent Business et al v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services et al
This Supreme Court case is what allowed former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Act to become legal. This did not come without a close 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court. The ruling meant that all Americans were required to have health insurance or be subject to an annual fine. This is how Obama’s health care reform passed into law and was met with widespread controversy since its inception.

Terry v. Ohio

The 1968 Supreme Court ruling centered on the stop and frisk procedure utilized by police officers. This ruling gave police the power to stop any person and frisk them without having any probable cause. All that an officer needed was reasonable suspicion that a crime could occur. This ruling set in motion years of controversy surrounding racial profiling. There were also a spinoff of state supreme court cases, as evidenced by the famed Floyd v. New York when city law enforcement was found guilty of profiling minorities in 2012.

United States v. Nixon

This 1974 Supreme Court decision gave way to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, which occurred just 15 days after the court ruling. The ruling ultimately disallowed a president to use his executive power to conceal any evidence in the midst of a criminal investigation. This was important at the time because Nixon was involved in the infamous Watergate scandal and attempted to use his executive privilege to escape impeachment.

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