As the country awaits major decisions on gay marriage and insurance subsidies, here are previous rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court which greatly impacted the nation.
Brown v Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
In a unanimous decision (9-0) the court ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. Oliver Brown challenged the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education over why his daughter could not attend the school closest to her home. The ruling paved the way for integration and is considered a major victory in the civil rights movement. Thurgood Marshall, who would later join the court, successfully argued the case for Brown.
Furman v Georgia (1972)
Justices ruled 5-4 that the death penalty could be considered cruel and unusual punishment when not administered consistently. The decision basically outlawed the practice nationwide. William Henry Furman was sentenced to die after being convicted of killing a Savannah homeowner. His lawyers argued that Furman was "emotionally disturbed and mentally impaired", and he never was executed. Oddly enough, another Georgia case, Gregg v Georgia, led to re-establishment of the death penalty in 1976.
Roe v Wade (1973)
This ruling legalized abortion and is still hotly debated today, 42 years later. Jane Roe of Texas challenged the law which kept her from aborting an unwanted pregnancy. She faced Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade in the case, which was decided January 22, 1973. The court ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion.
National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius (2012)
This is the controversial ruling that required Americans buy health insurance whether they wanted to or not. The 5-4 decision upheld Congress's power to enact most provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, stating that the individual mandate to buy insurance was a constitutional exercise of Congress's taxing power.