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The 5 Most Important Supreme Court Cases of 2015

The Supreme Court has its boring years. The Court didn't do much of note in 1888, for example. 1952 was a total snooze. But 2015? No way.

Few years have brought as many important and exciting Supreme Court decisions as 2015. Spanning from same-sex marriage to Facebook threats, from lethal injections to Obamacare, it wasn't a dull year. Here are 2015's five most interesting, exciting, and important decisions.

1. Obergefell v. Hodges: Same-Sex Marriage Is a Constitutional Right

What It Said: Same-sex couples have a "fundamental right to marry," under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

Why It Matters: This isn't just the most important case of the year; it might be one of the most important of the Roberts Court. The decision is a major victory for LGBT rights and reflects a massive, and quick, change in public opinion -- a shift towards greater acceptance of gays and lesbians that was given effect largely by the courts. Additionally, Obergefell ensured its relevance for decades to come by deciding that substantive due process need not be limited to specific historical practices.

2. King v. Burwell: Obamacare Survives Another Challenge

What It Said: Subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act through health care exchanges "established by the State" were not limited to only state-run exchanges.

Why It Matters: Beyond saving health care subsidies for millions of people who use the federal exchange, King offered additional proof that if Obamacare is going to be defeated, it probably won't be at the hands of the Supreme Court.

3. Elonis v. United States: There's No Law Against Being a Jerk Online

What It Said: Negligent communication of a threat alone isn't enough to support a conviction for online threats.

Why It Matters: Anthony Elonis wrote some truly awful (musically and morally) raps about killing his ex-wife, co-workers, and kindergarteners. He posted them to Facebook and that was it -- until he was arrested and convicted of making criminal threats, under a pretty weak interpretation of that federal law's requirement. The Elonis decision makes sure that the right to be a creep online is preserved, even for the worst of us.

4. Glossip v. Gross: Lethal Injection Lives On

What It Said: The standard lethal injection cocktail does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Why It Matters: Glossip v. Gross settled a dispute that arose after earlier lethal injection drugs were taken off the market. Yes, the new cocktail is fine, and yes, states can go ahead and continue using it, even if executions are occasionally botched or torturous. But, perhaps more importantly, in his dissent, Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Ginsburg, announced that he would be willing to consider tossing out the death penalty altogether.

5. Michigan v. EPA: Consider Costs in Emissions Regulations

What It Said: When creating "appropriate and necessary" pollution controls under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must closely examine the costs of pollution controls from the start.

Why It Matters: Here, the Court moved the potential cost of regulations to the forefront of air pollution controls -- controls which are often motivated by human health concerns more than economic ones. Not only is the ruling important because of the mercury rules it struck down, it could also have a major impact as the EPA tries to find ways to meet the country's emissions reductions commitments under the recent Paris climate change accords.

The Year to Come: Affirmative Action, Contraception, Voting Rights, and More

Recent Supreme Court arguments and actions ensure that we'll have an interesting 2016 as well. Cases like Fisher v. University of Texas, on race-conscious university admissions, Evenwel v. Abbott, on the meaning of "one person, one vote," and a host of Obamacare contraception lawsuits could be decided by the end of the summer, giving you plenty of Supreme Court news to look forward to in the year ahead.

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