By Aaron Earls
Retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has been viewed as the swing vote at the highest court in the land.
A TIME article said in one year he was 24 for 24 in siding with the majority in 5-4 cases. “So crucial is his vote that lawyers regularly pitch their arguments in close cases overtly to Justice Kennedy,” TIME wrote.
Nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987, Kennedy said he hated the term swing vote. “The cases swing,” he said. “I don’t.” But it is undeniable that Kennedy played a crucial role in shaping the Supreme Court’s decisions in significant 5-4 rulings.
Here are 10 of the most important rulings where Kennedy voted with the narrowest majority.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)
In the first significant test to abortion since Roe v. Wade, Kennedy helped keep abortion legal in the United States, but allowed for restrictions as long as they did not create an “undue burden.”
The Supreme Court actually upheld four of the five abortion restrictions Planned Parenthood was suing Pennsylvania over, but in their decision, they established abortion as being protected by the 14th Amendment.
Lee v. Weisman (1992)
In this ruling, the Court ruled that schools cannot sponsor religious leaders to give even nonsectarian prayers at events.
Kennedy’s majority opinion formulated what has become known as the “coercion test.” The freedom of religion does not go beyond the limits placed on it by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Kennedy argued this example of school prayer coerced participation of a religious practice by those in attendance.
Papers from former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackum revealed Kennedy switched his vote on the case and Planned Parenthood v. Casey during deliberations.
Rosenberger v. University of Virginia (1995)
Kennedy wrote the majority opinion that held the university had discriminated against Wide Awake, a Christian student publication, by not allowing them access to funds available to other student organizations.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)
The majority, which Kennedy joined, held that the Boy Scouts could exclude homosexual members and leaders despite state anti-discrimination laws.
The court ruled that private organizations may exclude people from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.”
Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)
Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which ruled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was constitutional.
He appealed to his previous reasoning in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The ban on a certain abortion procedure did not present an “undue burden” and was within the rights of Congress to pass.
United States v. Windsor (2013)
The majority opinion, written by Kennedy, ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional under the due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not restrict the meaning of “marriage” or “spouse” to only opposite-sex unions.
Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014)
Again, Kennedy wrote the majority opinion that ruled the town of Greece, New York, did not violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by opening meetings with prayer.
Kennedy argued the practice was in line with national traditions, did not coerce participation, and was open to minority faiths.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014)
The court ruled for the owners of Hobby Lobby in their attempts to avoid the contraceptive mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act, which required businesses to cover with their employee insurance all approved forms of contraceptives.
It was the first time the court recognized a claim of religious belief by a for-profit company, but limited it to “closely held” corporations.
Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)
Kennedy’s majority opinion legalized same-sex marriage across the United States and required every state to perform and recognize those marriages with the same rights as opposite-sex marriages.
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra (2018)
The majority opinion, joined by Kennedy, found California’s FACT Act violated the First Amendment by requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy centers provide notices about the availability of abortions at other locations.
Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion that said the California law specifically targeted pro-life centers and called it “a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thoughts, and expression.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.