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On the issues: Significant Decisions of the Roberts Court

Since John G. Roberts Jr. became chief justice five years ago, the court's ideological divide has been on display in cases involving abortion, the Second Amendment, free speech, the rights of terrorism suspects, criminal defendants and a host of important constitutional and social issues.

The Roberts Court by year

2005-2006

2006-2007

2007-2008

2008-2009

2009-2010


2005-2006

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

The court rejected the Bush administration's plan to try Guantanamo detainees by military commissions.

Vote: (5 to 3) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Scalia, Thomas, Alito. Roberts recused because he had heard the case as a circuit court judge.

Read the case

Kansas v. March

The court upheld a Kansas law that said the death penalty is imposed when the jury decides mitigating and aggravating evidence is of equal value.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

Gonzales v. Oregon

Before Alito joined the court, it ruled former attorney general John Ashcroft exceeded his authority in threatening to discipline doctors who followed Oregon's assisted suicide law.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Stevens, O'Connor; Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas.

Read the case

Rapanos v. U.S

The court failed to find five votes but the outcome allowed federal government to continue to enforce part of the Clean Water Act.

Vote: (4 to 1 to 4) Kennedy in the middle between Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito on one side, and Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and

Breyer on the other.

Read the case

Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights.

The court upheld a law that withheld federal funds from universities that do not allow military recruiters the same access as other employers.

Vote: (8 to 0) Alito did not take part.

Read the case



2006-2007

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education

The court ruled school assignment plans in Seattle and Louisville unconstitutional because they made decisions based on an individual's race.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case here and here.

Gonzales v. Carhart

The court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, approving for the first time a prohibition of a specific abortion procedure.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire

Ruled that a female manager had waited too long to file her complaint that the company had paid her less than male co-workers.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life

The court loosened the restrictions on campaign advertising by unions and corporations, weakening the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

Massachusetts v. EPA

The court sided with environmentalists and rebuked the Environmental Protection Agency for declining to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Read the case

Morse v. Frederick

The court ruled against a high school student who unfurled a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner at a school event, and said school officials may punish speech that appears to advocate illegal drug use.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case


2007-2008

District of Columbia v. Heller

The court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendent provides an individual right of gun ownership, unrelated to militia service.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer)

Read the case

Boumediene v. Bush

The court ruled Guantanamo detainees have a right to seek their release in federal court.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Read the case

Kennedy v. Louisiana

The court said the death penalty is reserved for murder and crimes against the state, and cannot be imposed on someone who rapes a child.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Read the case

Baze v. Rees

The court ruled Kentucky's method of lethal injection, similar to that used in most states, does not violate prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Vote: (7 to 2) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito. Dissenters: Souter, Ginsburg.

Read the case

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

The court ruled Indiana's requirement that voters show a photo id does not violate the Constitution.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case


2008-2009

Ricci v. DeStefano

The court restricted how far employers may go in considering race in hiring and promotion, and that the city of New Haven was wrong to throw out the results of a test on which minorities performed poorly.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

District Attorney's Office for Third Judicial District v. Osborne

The court said prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing.

Vote: (5 to 4) Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Read the case

Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal

The court said excessive campaign contributions can create an unconstitutional threat to a fair trial.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Read the case

Wyeth v. Levine

The court said drugmakers could not rely on federal regulation to protect them from suits brought under state consumer laws.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Alito.

Read the case

Altria Group Inc. v. Good

The court said federal laws regarding cigarette labeling do not prohibit suits against tobacco companies under state anti-fraud laws.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito

Read the case


2009-2010

McDonald v. Chicago

The court said the Second Amendment protections on gun ownership apply to gun control laws passed by state and local governments.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor

Read the case

Skilling v. United States

The court limited a federal law making it a crime to deprive one's employer of the "intangible right to honest services" to bribes and kickbacks. The dissenters would have struck the law entirely.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor. Dissenters: Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas.

Read the case

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

The court said the First Amendment does not protect humanitarian groups who advise foreign terrorist organizations, even about legal activities or peaceful settlement of disputes.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Read the case

Graham v. Florida

The court ruled juveniles could not be sentened to life in prison without the possibility of parole for any crime short of homicide.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor. Dissenters: Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Read the case

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

The court agreed corporations and union could make unlimited independent expenditures in campaigns, saying restrictions violated free speech.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Read the case

United States v. Stevens

The court said a federal law intended to forbid the sale of depictions of violence against animals was too broad and violated fee speech.

Vote: (8 to 1) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor. Dissenter: Alito.

Read the case

SOURCE: Staff reports
 

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