Supreme Court Countdown: Big Rulings Coming

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(CNN) -- Affirmative action. Voting rights. Same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court is about to rule on some of the most contentious issues in American society -- issues that have divided Americans for years.

"These are critical decisions," said Ron Brownstein, a CNN political analyst. They affect "the future of our social relations, our workplace, our educational opportunity."

The rulings could come as early as Monday. At the latest, they're expected by the end of the month.

The big cases include:

Affirmative action

The case: Student Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas, saying she was rejected partly because she is white. The school defended its policy of considering race as one of many factors.

The Defense of Marriage Act

The case: The key plaintiff, Edith Windsor, sued the federal government after the death of her longtime female partner, saying she faced an estate bill much larger than those heterosexual married partners have to pay. Windsor married Thea Clara Spyer in 2007 in Toronto. By the time Spyer died in 2009, New York, where they lived, recognized that marriage. Under DOMA, the federal government does not.

California's Proposition 8

The case: California, through Proposition 8 on a statewide ballot, banned same-sex marriage. A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that unconstitutional. Now, the Supreme Court's nine justices could fundamentally alter how American law treats marriage.

The Voting Rights Act

The case: The 1965 law gives federal authorities open-ended oversight of states and localities that have a history of voter discrimination. After the provision was reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for another 25 years, counties in Alabama and North Carolina filed suit, saying the monitoring was burdensome and unwarranted.

From our media partner CNN

 Joe Johns. Bill Mears and Josh Levs