The Supreme Court's Landmark Rulings

ABC News' Terry Moran breaks down the big cases of the term and joins Carrie Severino and Dahlia Lithwick to discuss the legacy of this Supreme Court.
7:50 | 06/29/14

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Transcript for The Supreme Court's Landmark Rulings
Our "Closer look" now at the supreme court. Ending its term tomorrow after several landmark rulings on everything from affirmative action and presidential power and cell phone privacy. It was a term marked by bitter dissents and some surprising consensus. Our experts break it all down after this from terry Moran. Reporter: They've been together for four years now, the nine justices. The Roberts court. Strongly conservative. Sometimes surprising on the constitutional journey. Each case, each interaction both with my colleagues and with others, will change me. Reporter: The justices heard about 75 cases this year. The big ones, affirmative action. In perhaps the most emotional case of the term, the court upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment passed by voters banning affirmative action in state university admission. While justice Kennedy said voters could decide whether race matters in public education, justice Sonia Sotomayor passionately disagreed. Race always matters. Because it reinforces the most crippling of thoughts, I do not belong here. The court tore down the 35-year-old limit any one person could contribute to any one kantd candidate in the election cycle. Victory! Finally, we're rid of the corrosive influence of not enough money in politics! Reporter: Chief justice John Roberts said campaign contributions were a basic right. On cell phone privacy, the issue -- can police search your cell phone without a warrant if you're arrested for anything? He put a sharp line around our digital lives. Acknowledged it would make crime fighting harder but declaring privacy comes as a cost. Abortion clinic buffers. The hot button issues of abortion and free speech collided. The 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts was beat down. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to swallow hard before casting a vote in this one. This group wants to March. We hate what they say. But we believe in their freedom to say it. Reporter: One big decision remains. The owners of hobby lobby feel that Obama care mandate to provide contraceptive coverage violates their religious rights. That ruling comes down on Monday. And terry joins us, along with dahlia lithwick and Carrie Severino. She was a clerk for justice Clarence Thomas. Terry, let me begin with you. Two-thirds of the cases this year have been unanimous. What about the Roberts court? He's an institutionalist. He's been concerned about the reputation, as it were, of the supreme court with the American people at a time of deep partisan polarization. He's trying to get the court to speak with one voice and stand apart from politics. You think this is especially important on the cell phone privacy case? I think that the cell phone privacy case is interesting because up until now, they fought about how to get there. In other words, no matter what the courts thought about privacy, the thought was, how do we think about this? To get nine people not the fight about what mad son would think about cell phones is a big deal. To not write what Madison would think about cell phones is a big deal. Which of the decisions or which decision will have the most lasting impact? I think the unanimous decision one of the hugest ones. It was the 12th unanimous defeat this -- administration sufferered -- This is in the one that curbed the president's ability to make recess appointments. Right. We have an administration that is pushing the law legally and the constitutional boundaries. On what it can do. The fact that the court was standing up, that even the president's own appointees were not willing to rubber-stamp what he was doing. Terry, look ahead to tomorrow. It is hard to read the tea leaves. Looks like chief justice Roberts will deliver the opinion. On this major contraception case. On the hobby lobby case. Do corporations have religious liberty? It seemed from the questioning in oral argument that the court is inclined to say to some degree, yes. It will strike a lot of Americans as strange. It could throw a monkey wrench into the entire regulatory state. Which corpcorporations, which religions, which taxes? That could open a huge -- You're nodding your head. The court in all these cases has the chance to go big or small. What we saw in the argument was the court trying to find a way to cabin this so it's not throwing everything into question. Can we limit it to closely held family corporations? Can we wait and decide about Exxon another day? I think the court tried to go small all week last week, really tried to be unanimous and find way to resolve this question and leave the big, big questions later raises the possibility they go big tomorrow. There was indication that justice Kennedy may have seen this like an abortion case. For the plaintiff, it is. In their religious belief, these four contraceptives, of the 20 they object to, as the fda agreed, they have the ability to terminate an embryo after it's been fertilized but before it's been implanted. Their religious pleef is that is ending a life. Then the state doesn't get to second-guess that. They have to follow it. One thing we have seen about the Roberts course, it's a libertarian court, not just for people but for corporations, too. Some people think the best way to win a civil rights case is to incorporate. A year ago, the Windsor case on gay marriage. What a difference a year makes. Since then, courts including an appeals court for the first time this week, in Utah, striking down the gay marriage ban in Utah. Court after court after court striking down bans on gay marriage. Dahlia, Scalia seems to have called it in his descent. He said this would happen. Do you think the rest of the court expected it to happen this quickly? Not this quickly. Or this passionately. The district judges' rulings are swinging for the fences. To the extent that the court waited, they were not sure that the country was ready. The country is ready. And I think that justice Kennedy will look at the district court opinions and the appeals court opinions and say, there is not going to be a backlash. This is done. I can write it. What does he do when he comes back? I think it is anyone's guess. The lower courts is taking the opinion way farther than it goes. It's anyone's ball game. That's why the next election is so important. The next president could have as many as three judicial appointments. That could change the face of the supreme court for a generation. That is huge. Justice Ginsburg pushing back against all those calling for her to retire now so that the president would have a chance to appoint someone. If she holds on, which it looks like she will, this could mean president Obama doesn't get any more picks. The window will close. No question about it. I think that what we're seeing with justice Ginsburg pushing back over this retire now so a democrat can appoint your successor. It's the sense of institutionalism. If she's seen to retire and give her seat, I think she's not just enjoying the job but defending the court. You both agree she's not retiring? No, I think she loves her job. Thank you all very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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