ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Some of the nation's most important events of the young century have happened in Florida or had a strong connection to the state, which is expected to surpass New York in population in 2014. Here is a list of 10 of them:
1. The 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore was decided in Florida by 537 votes after the U.S. Supreme Court ended recounts in the Sunshine State. The fight over the election increased rancor between the two major parties and also shined a spotlight on deficiencies in the nation's voting infrastructure.
2. The custody battle over Elian Gonzalez became an international diplomatic crisis as his Miami-based relatives fought to keep the 7-year-old boy from returning to Cuba after he was rescued at sea during an ill-fated attempt to get to the United States with his mother, who drowned. Amid a throng of protesters, federal agents seized the boy during a raid of his Miami relatives' house. Gonzalez was later reunited with his father who took him back to Cuba.
3. Space shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center and the landing strip at the Florida space center was to be the final destination for its seven astronauts before the spacecraft broke apart over Texas upon returning to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003. The Columbia disaster grounded the space shuttle program for 2 1/2 years and forced NASA to implement new measures for inspecting shuttles for damage after launch.
4. Within a period of weeks in 2004, four major hurricanes hit Florida: Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan. The next year, Florida again was buffeted by Hurricanes Dennis and Wilma. The six hurricanes were responsible for more than three dozen deaths and left behind tens of billions of dollars in damages. In the long term, the hurricanes caused Florida to have the highest home insurance rates in the nation.
5. The seven-year-legal fight by Terri Schiavo's husband to get a feeding tube removed from his wife who was in a vegetative state turned into a bitterly-fought debate about the right to die. The legal fight included an intervention from then Gov. Jeb Bush, and it became a political football when the U.S. Congress and President Bush attempted to get the legal fight moved into federal courts. Schiavo died in March 2005 with protesters and media stationed outside her hospice.
6. Florida became a poster child for the nation's housing crisis in 2008 when foreclosures swamped the court system and housing values plummeted. The housing crisis, fueled by lax lending standards, led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression when mortgage-backed securities held by global financial firms collapsed.
7. The trial of Casey Anthony on charges that she murdered her 2-year-old daughter transfixed the nation during the summer of 2011 as viewers around the world watched a real-life family soap opera unfold in an Orlando courtroom. Anthony was acquitted of murder.
8. Florida was among the four states directly affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the nation's largest offshore oil spill. Even though Florida didn't have the same levels of tar balls washing ashore as other states, the state was hurt by tourists staying away from the Panhandle's pristine beaches.
9. Florida was at the vanguard of the Tea Party revolt of 2010, sending Rick Scott to the governor's mansion and electing Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate.
10. George Zimmerman's fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 raised questions about gun control laws, race and equal justice under the law, becoming one of the biggest civil rights cause celebres in recent years. Zimmerman was acquitted of any crime at his 2013 trial.
Terry Spencer in Miami contributed to this report.
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