Key Decisions of the Roberts Court 2005-2012

For reference and use as examples in a variety of Supreme Court 15 mark and 45 mark answers 

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2006: House v. Bell

In a landmark decision that freed many innocent men, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 (Scalia did not participate) that DNA forensic evidence found after a death penalty conviction can be used to overturn a conviction.

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2006: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

In a 5-3 vote (Roberts was recused because had ruled on this case in a lower court), the court ruled that the Bush administration could not prosecute detainees at Guantanamo Bay by military commissions.

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2007: Gonzalez v. Carhart

The court upheld Congress' Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, by a 5-4 vote, a first-of-its-kind law that prohibited abortions in the second trimester. Despite the conservative nature of this ruling, It makes no attempt to reverse Roe v Wade 1973 and a woman's fundamental right to an abortion. It is an example of judicial restraint.

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2007: Massachusetts v. EPA

In a major victory for environmentalists and the green movement, the court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions across the country.

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2008: Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

Indiana's 2005 law that required all citizens to show photo identification in order to vote was ruled constitutional in a 6-3 vote. This is significant because the ID issue is being used by Republicans in some states to restrict voter registration among traditional Democrat supporters. In some states a drivers licence is not sufficient as an ID but a National Rifle Association (NRA) membership card is.

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2008: District of Columbia v. Heller

In a win for the pro-gun lobby, the court ruled by a 5-4 vote that that the Second Amendment allows individuals to keep guns in their homes. It was the first Supreme Court case in United States history to decide whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. It is significant as an example of a conservative decision by the Roberts court.

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2010: Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commiss

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and third parties were free to buy ads to influence political elections as long as there is no direct link or coordination with the candidate's campaign (This undermined the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act 2002 on campaign finance reform, allowing superpacs & rich individuals to spend unlimited funds on an election campaign. The 2012 presidential campaign was the most expensive in US history in terms of the money raised and spent.).

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2011: Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores

In the largest civil rights suit case in history, the court voted 5-4 that women (1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers since 1998) across the nation did not have enough in common to sue Wal-Mart for gender discrimination. It was said the women did not have enough in common to constitute a class. The ruling has significance for other class action suits where there will now be a greater emphasis on proving that the plaintiffs constitute a class. Big Business is the only beneficiary from this ruling.

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2011: Chamber of Commerce v Whiting

In a victory for advocates against illegal immigration, the court upheld, in a 5-3 vote (Justice Kagan did not participate) an Arizona law that punished business owners for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

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2012: Arizona v. United States

In this case, the court ruled in a 5-3 decision (Justice Elena Kagan was not involved) that major parts of Arizona's strict immigration law were not permissible because they usurped the federal government's powers on immigration & enforcement. The ruling struck down three provisions of Arizona’s immigration laws which had required legal immigrants to carry registration documents at all times; allowed state police to arrest any individual for suspicion of being an illegal immigrant; and made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to search for a job (or to hold one) in the state. This was a liberal decision by the court with Chief Justice Roberts siding with justices Kennedy, Ginsberg, Breyer and Sotomayer.

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2012: National Federation of Independent Business

This is the Obamacare ruling. In a surprise 5-4 decision, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate to buy health insurance as a constitutional exercise of Congress's taxing power. This is a significant ruling in support of the Affordable Healthcare Act 2009 but further litigation is likely to bring the issue before the SC again in the near future.

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2010: McDonald v Chicago

This 5-4 ruling determined that the Second Amendment applies to the individual states. The SC held that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and applies to the states. The decision cleared up the uncertainty left in the wake of District of Columbia v. Heller as to the scope of gun rights in regard to the states. Another conservative decision.

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