During his confirmation hearings in 2005, Chief Justice John Roberts famously compared a judge's job to that of a baseball umpire. “I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
Baseball fans will tell you the best umpires are the ones you don’t know by name. In other words, the qualities of a good ump include an ability to exercise excellent judgment without drawing attention to yourself. Nobody pays to see the ump show.
Is this why most Americans can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice? Because the highest court in the land is led by men and women who prefer minimal recognition in exchange for awesome power and influence?
Generally speaking, the United States Supreme Court does a great job headlining one-third of the federal government without drawing attention to itself. However, now and then, they’re forced to make decisions in matters that impact every American life. In doing so, they inevitably incur tremendous amounts of news coverage, with the names and photos of its nine members appearing on front pages across the country.
Commonly referred to as landmark rulings, the moments when SCOTUS has everyone’s attention are few and far between but nonetheless significant in American history. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most influential SCOTUS rulings of the last 12 years:
Corporations used to be extremely limited in how they could contribute to political campaigns. That changed with this ruling, which effectively lifted all legal barriers keeping non-campaign fundraising groups out of politics. So long as there’s no obvious exchange of money for favors, corporations can donate as much money as they want to the political campaigns of their choosing.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 led to sweeping reforms in voting systems across much of the United States. It effectively ended the rampant racially-charged voter discrimination throughout most of the South. But in 2013, the Supreme Court determined the reasons for these legal protections were no longer relevant and ruled the law unconstitutional.
Before this ruling, the consensus was that the freedom of religion could not include anything depriving others of their rights. But in 2014, SCOTUS ruled that business owners with religious convictions could legally incorporate their beliefs into the way they treat employees. The result is a system where someone’s boss can prevent them from receiving contraceptives through the company healthcare plan.
Marriage equality in the United States was once a state-by-state issue. Then with one sweeping motion, the United States Supreme Court decided that marriage equality was a federally protected right. Overnight, gay marriage became legal from coast to coast. Couples barred from making their relationship official in the eyes of the law could finally get married.
With few exceptions, sports betting was outlawed by Congress in 1992. But in 2018, the Supreme Court decided the federal government was overstepping its bounds. States could once again decide for themselves whether or not to make sports betting legal. The result is a rapid growth of online NFL sportsbookservices and other sports gambling operations in states where it’s been legalized.
Gerrymandering - the act of state legislators remapping congressional districts to favor their political party - has been a thorn in the side of American politics for centuries. Many people hoped for the federal courts to intervene. However, SCOTUS determined in 2019 that such intervention would be unconstitutional.
For nearly 50 years, Roe v. Wade served as the de facto law of the land regarding abortion rights. But since it was legal precedent and not law, abortion-rights activists were always worried a future court might overturn this landmark ruling. That came true in 2022when the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision and ruled that states could decide for themselves whether a woman has the right to choose. Michael Driver is a freelance writer from Texas. When not writing to pay the bills, he loves covering topics related to history, movies, and sports. He can be reached at ReddishRaddish87@gmail.com.