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6 Major Supreme Court Cases That Would Have Been Different Without Scalia

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. i

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Brendan Smialowski /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Brendan Smialowski /AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Saturday in Washington, DC, following the announcement of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Brendan Smialowski /AFP/Getty Images

In terms of the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is monumental. With Scalia, the court had four reliable conservative votes and, in Justice Kennedy, the court had a conservative swing vote.

That led to many decisions that were decided by a razor thin 5-to-4 margin. To gauge Scalia's importance, we dug through the Supreme Court Database and found that during Obama's presidency, 53 cases have been decided by a 5-4 majority that included Scalia.

Here are six cases that could have turned out vastly different without Scalia:

Close Cases Affected By Scalia's Vote

  • 1. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission:

    The 2010 decision restructured the campaign finance landscape. According to SCOTUSblog, the court decided that the "government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast."

  • 2. Hollingsworth v. Perry:

    In this case, the Supreme Court sidestepped a big, broad decision on gay marriage. The majority opinion drew an unlikely coalition — Scalia joined Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan — saying that petitioners did not have standing to challenge a lower court ruling that struck down Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that made same-sex marriages illegal in California.

  • 3. Glossip v. Gross:

    Amid a rash of botched lethal injection cases, the Supreme Court took up a case challenging the constitutionality of the drug cocktail used by Oklahoma. In 5-to-4 decision in 2014, the court decided the cocktail did not violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and usual punishment.

  • 4. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores:

    In a case that challenged the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, saying family-owned and other closely held companies can opt out of the mandate if they have religious objections to it.

  • 5. Town of Greece v. Galloway:

    The question before the court for this case was whether a town in upstate New York was violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution when it opened its meetings with a prayer. By a narrow margin, the court decided the town was using prayer for "permissible ceremonial purposes," not as an "unconstitutional establishment of religion."

  • 6. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes:

    In 2011, the Supreme Court threw out the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in American history.

    As NPR's Nina Totenberg wrote at the time: "The issue before the Supreme Court was whether female employees as a group could be certified as a single class, suing Wal-Mart at a single trial. Lawyers for the women introduced evidence showing that female employees held two-thirds of the lowest-level hourly jobs at Wal-Mart, but only one-third of the management jobs, and that women overall were paid on average $1.16 per hour less than men in the same jobs, though the women had more seniority and higher performance ratings."

    A federal judge had certified the class, but Wal-Mart appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and won.

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