5–4 Decisions Show What’s At Stake

In 5–4 cases, Justice O’Connor often served as the voice of moderation, upholding common-sense values and principles. Below is a list of 5–4 decisions where O’Connor sided with the majority:

O’Connor Preserved Representation For All In Congressional DistrictingIn 2001, the Supreme Court voted 5–4 in the case of Hunt v. Cromartie (later renamed Easley v. Cromartie,) to uphold the use of race as a factor in drawing a congressional district, where it was not the “dominant and controlling” factor. [New York Times, 4/19/01]

O’Connor Preserved Diversity On College Campuses

In June, 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program. Writing for the majority in Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor argued that the Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

O’Connor Preserved A Woman’s Right to Choose

Declaring that a state may “not endanger a woman’s health when it regulates the methods of abortion,” Justice Breyer expressed the 5–4 majority decision, with O’Connor joining, to strike down a Nebraska law that banned late-term abortion procedures. The case was Stenberg vs. Carhart.


In the 1992 case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey a 5–4 majority upheld a woman’s right to chose, but allowed states to place restrictions on that right so long as they do not “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/30/92]

O’Connor Fought To Uphold Civil Liberties In Time of War

In Rasul v. Bush, which involved foreigners held at Guantanamo, O’Connor joined Stevens majority opinion asserting that United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.O’Connor Upheld Campaign Finance Regulations

O’Connor wrote a key opinion and joined in McConnell v. FEC upholding Congress’s efforts to plug the soft-money loophole and regulate electioneering communications.

O’Connor Preserved Due Process In Detention Cases

O’Connor joined Breyer’s majority 5–4 opinion in Zadvydas v. Davis concluding that detention of an illegal immigrant is limited to an amount “reasonably necessary to bring about that alien’s removal from the United States” and “does not permit indefinite detention.”

O’Connor Protects The Rights Of The Disabled

In 2004, the Supreme Court voted 5–4 in the case of Tennessee v. Lane to uphold application of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act which “prohibits government entities from denying public ‘services, programs and activities’ to individuals on the basis of their disability. It also provides that persons who have been harmed by discrimination can seek damages, including from the states.” O’Connor joined the majority opinion written by Justice Stevens.

O’Connor Protects Those Who Complain of Sex Discrimination

In the 2005 case of Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ. O’Connor wrote the opinion for a five Justice majority that ruled retaliation against those who complain about illegal sex discrimination was impermissible.