Civil rights and civil liberties were very much on your minds last year. With the issues of gay marriage and equality making headlines, that is in line with the top five most-trafficked U.S. Supreme Court cases at FindLaw.com.
Many of these cases are stark reminders of America's messy history of discrimination and the restriction of personal freedoms. But they also prove the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution and the capacity for change.
You voted with your mouse-clicks all year, and here are the top five most searched-for SCOTUS cases of 2011:
1. Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
This case is a landmark among landmarks, paving the way for racial integration in public schools and other public institutions by overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine laid out by Plessy v. Ferguson more than a half-century earlier.
It would take another decade before Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning discrimination by private entities, but Brown was an important first step.
2. Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
It's hard to believe that consenting gay adults were arrested for having sex in the privacy of their own home. But that's what happened just nine years ago before the high court intervened, effectively overturning Texas' sodomy law.
The Texas law never was intended to be used against homosexuals but rather to prosecute sexual predators, Justice Kennedy pointed out.
3. Dred Scott v. Sandford (1865)
Dred Scott, who was born a slave, was taken to several free states by his owner but remained a slave. He tried to assert his freedom through the courts but lacked standing, since he was denied citizenship.
After several appeals, the Supreme Court held that Dred Scott and all U.S. residents of African descent are not protected by the U.S. Constitution nor could they ever become citizens.
This would change after the Civil War and passage of the 14th Amendment.
4. New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Public school officials searched the purse of a student caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. They found rolling papers, marijuana and evidence of drug dealing. Were her Fourth Amendment rights violated?
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision, establishing more lenient standards for "reasonableness" in school searches.
5. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
This case challenged a Connecticut statute making the use of birth control drugs or devices a crime. The appellants, a married couple, asserted their right of marital privacy.
The high court found the Connecticut law
unconstitutional, paving the way for greater access to contraceptives.
Which could be the top cases for 2012? It's not at the Supreme Court (yet), but you can read about the recent Prop. 8 decision. Over on our Decided blog we look at the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban. This very well could make its way to the high court soon. And for all the details, we also have the entire, 128-page opinion on Courtside.
FindLaw has a wealth of cases available for you. So be sure to browse our collection of U.S. Supreme Court case summaries (since 2000) or subscribing to one of our free daily or weekly case summary newsletters. Happy hunting!