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The Most Controversial Supreme Court Cases

Updated September 13, 2021 2.8k votes 685 voters 113.5k views11 items

Here is a list of some of the most controversial Supreme Court cases in history. These US Supreme Court decisions, some of which date back more than 100 years, include rulings on such hot button issues as abortion, civil rights, states' rights, gay rights, and election laws. These decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States are considered by many to be among the most controversial. If you don't see a case on this list, feel free to add it in the comments section below.

The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, so many of its decisions will be controversial as they are final and apply to everyone in the country. When dealing with issues such as abortion, there will always be a large divide between the people - and many different views will clash. When the government makes a final decision on important issues, there will be controversy as it's impossible to make everyone happy. But that is what the Supreme Court is supposed to do. We pick the best judges to sit and listen to cases and make the right decisions based on our laws and customs.

Not everybody will agree with all of the decisions, so let's take a look at the most controversial decisions made by the US Supreme Court.

  • 5

    Windsor v. United States

    Video: YouTube

    On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in the Windsor v. United States ruling. Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded that the federal government's refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages imposed a "stigma," enshrined a "separate status" into law, and "humiliate[d]" a group of people. Kennedy deemed this unconstitutional, writing for the majority of Supreme Court justices in their historic decision striking down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The vote was 5-4.

    With DOMA as the law of the land, married gay and lesbian couples were unable to receive more than 1,000 federal benefits that heterosexual couples were able to receive. Kennedy, along with Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment.

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  • 6

    Bush v. Gore

    Video: YouTube

    The landmark ruling in Bush v. Gore essentially determined the outcome of the 2000 presidential race. The US Supreme Court's 5-4 decision reversed an earlier Florida Supreme Court decision and ended a statewide recount of ballots.

    The justices' ruling essentially awarded Florida's 25 electoral votes to George W. Bush, saying that allowing the recount to continue would violate the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

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  • 7

    Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission

    Video: YouTube

    Can the government regulate political speech? This cornerstone First Amendment principle was at the center of the Supreme Court's January 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. Ultimately, the High Court ruled that the US government cannot ban any political spending by corporations (or unions) in candidate elections, including money for campaign ads that either support or criticize certain candidates.

    Some argued that not restricting such spending might compromise democracy. President Barack Obama was a sharp critic of the decision, saying that the ruling "opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy." This decision reversed some key past rulings concerning campaign finance regulation - and will affect many, many future political campaigns.

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  • 8

    Snyder v. Phelps

    Video: YouTube

    In October of 2010, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Snyder v. Phelps case. This case concerned the issue of public protests at funerals. Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, filed suit against the Westboro Baptist Church, led by pastor Fred Phelps. Snyder's son Matthew was dispatched in Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketed at the young Marine's funeral, holding signs that said, among other things: "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "Thank God for 9/11."

    Snyder filed a lawsuit. In March of 2011, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church, upholding the group's rights to picket, and saying that the First Amendment (free speech) protects protesters in this case because Westboro's picket signs dealt with "matters of public import." Westboro continues to picket at military services and other high-profile memorials today.

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