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Scalia's 5 Most Influential and Important Supreme Court Decisions

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 16, 2016 12:14 PM

During his nearly 30 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia left an indelible mark on the country's jurisprudence. To paraphrase J.K. Galbraith, we're all originalists now -- whether we like it or not.

Here are Justice Scalia's most influential decisions from the Supreme Court, covering everything from standing to video games. Some of them may surprise you.

1. The Second Amendment -- D.C. v. Heller (2008): Unquestionably Justice Scalia's most important constitutional decision, this landmark case declared, for the first time ever, that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms. The decision was a coup for conservatives, who had long wanted to challenge restrictions on guns.

But it was also important for what it told us about Justice Scalia. By including language limiting the reach of that Second Amendment right -- particularly, noting that the ruling should "not cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions" -- Scalia proved that he was an originalist but "not a nut."

2. Standing -- Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992): A citizen suit provision alone isn't enough to get you into court, Scalia ruled in Lujan, one of the cornerstones of modern standing doctrine. The Constitution requires injury in fact, so if you want to sue over the enforcement of the law -- here, the Endangered Species Act -- you better prove that you have been directly hurt by its misapplication. Sure, it's not as sexy as his Second Amendment jurisprudence, but Lujan is probably one of Scalia's most-cited opinions.

3. Separation of Powers -- Printz v. United States (1997): Here, the Court struck down certain provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The ruling's actual effect on the law was small, but it has had a lasting effect on the separation of powers in the federal government. The majority opinion, authored by Scalia, emphasized the "dual sovereignty" of the states and federal government and acted as an important shot in the arm for supporters of states' rights and limits on federal power.

4. Religious Freedom -- Employment Division v. Smith (1990): While Scalia has been praised as a conservative darling, his decisions have often garnered a more critical reception from religious groups. This case is part of the reason why. In Employment Division v. Smith, the Court ruled that a "neutral law of general applicability" -- here, a ban on peyote -- does not violate the First Amendment even if it infringes on one's free exercise of religion.

5. Free Speech and Video Games -- Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n (2011): You can thank Justice Scalia for your right to do pretty much anything in video games. In this case, the Court struck down a California law banning the sale of violent video games to children. It also reminded us of Scalia's commitment to free speech and restrictions on censorship.

Of course, not all important decisions are equal. Let us know which Scalia opinion you think has had the biggest impact on Twitter.