The Big 4: Major Cases and Legal Issues of 2015

Legally speaking, this year is most likely to be remembered for the recognition of same-sex marriage in the summer of 2015. But there were other big cases, and even some small ones that could mean big things to many people, that are also worth review.

Let's look at some of the major legal issues of 2015 and how they played out in the courts.

Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry under two clauses in the Constitution, the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. This was a major victory for lesbian and gay rights advocates and certainly seems to be the most important civil rights decision of the millennium so far.

Black Lives Matter

Americans turned their attention to police abuses of power like never before after a series of shootings of young, black men made it impossible to ignore the issues of racism in law enforcement. The death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody due to injuries from a brutal ride to the station was one seed for a national awareness campaign, called Black Lives Matter, intended to put the focus on racism and police brutality.

The Freddie Gray story continues, as just this week, a mistrial was declared in the first trial of one of the six officers responsible for his death. Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter awareness campaign gains momentum, and may just become more than a slogan in 2016.

Indigent Accused

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center were both hard at work this year fighting for the rights of indigent defendants throughout the nation who are being jailed for failure to pay court fees and fines without due process. Calling the practice "a secret debtors' prison system" the ACLU brought cases in several states challenging imprisonment of the poor for failure to pay fines. Meanwhile the SPLC is calling out judges who offer the poor Shakespearean bargains.

Gig Economy

A slew of class action lawsuits were filed against companies like Uber, Lyft, Google, UPS, and numerous others across the country as contract workers challenged that classification. These cases matter to everyone invested in this economy because they may determine the future of work for many people, not just the plaintiffs involved in these class action lawsuits.

The issue is whether companies are incorrectly classifying workers in order to save money and limit liability, depriving workers of the legal protections due to employees, like benefits, insurance, reimbursements and more.

What's Next?

It's impossible to predict what the new big issues will be in 2016. But if the last year has been any indication, we can look forward to lots of new lawsuits, some of which will seriously impact how we live.

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