WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court’s biggest decisions of 2018 featured rulings that neutered public-sector unions, upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban and legalized sports gambling. There was also the case of a Colorado wedding cake.
Many of the most important decisions broke 5-4, with a conservative wing of the court carrying the majority opinion. Below are the most memorable cases of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s final term on the bench.
Issue: Labor unions
Decided June 27
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that government workers who opt not to join a union should not be forced to pay non-member fees that fund collective bargaining. It was a major setback to public-sector unions and a win for conservatives. The vote was split down ideological lines, with the conservative wing in the majority. The ruling also reversed the court’s 1977 decision that had allowed unions to charge dues to non-members.
Issue: Travel ban
Decided June 26
Shortly after taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries. Critics claimed the ban was simply discrimination against Muslims. Trump’s lawyers countered that the president was acting on national security concerns and had the constitutional authority to do so. The court sided with the Trump administration in a 5-4 decision supported by the conservative majority, affirming a president’s legal authority to restrict entry into the country.
Issue: Internet sales tax
Decided June 21
Online purchases got a little more expensive in 2018 in the wake of another split decision. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said that states have the right to require online merchants to collect sales taxes on purchases, even if the retailer doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store located there. The decision mostly affected small online retailers as many major retailers already collected sales taxes in states where they had no physical presence. The ruling was a win for state and local governments, however, which claimed they had lost billions in annual sales taxes revenue from untaxed online goods.
Decided June 22
Should law enforcement need a warrant before accessing a person’s cellphone location data? In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled they do. The decision was seen as a landmark victory for digital privacy, requiring a judge’s permission before law enforcement can tap into cellphone tower data to track a person’s whereabouts. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices to form the majority opinion.
Issue: Gay rights v. religious rights
Decided June 4
In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Pitting gay rights versus religious rights, the case was one of the most closely watched of the 2017-2018 term. The baker won in court, but the case was a narrow ruling that sidestepped the question of whether a person can invoke their religious beliefs to deny service to gay people. Instead, the court said the state’s civil rights commission had shown anti-religious bias when it ruled against the baker, leaving the broad issue without a clear legal precedent.
Issue: Sports gambling
Decided May 14
In a 6-3 decision, the court struck down a 1992 federal law that had effectively banned sports betting, opening the door for states to decide on their own whether to legalize gambling on sports. Before the ruling, in which liberal Justice Elena Kagan joined the court’s five conservative justices, Nevada was the only state where sports betting was legal under federal law. Already, states are moving to legalize it. In 2018, New Jersey became the second state to legalize sports betting, and bills moving through various state legislatures suggest the ruling could be a jackpot for the sports gambling industry.