Supreme Court Cases

Landmark Supreme Court Cases

The following Supreme Court cases are considered landmark cases and you should be familiar with all of them. Revisit this list often. Ask questions. Make sure you understand the importance of these decisions.

Marbury vs. Madison (1803) - Established the right of Judicial Review. It was the first time the Supreme Court ruled that a law (or portion of the law) was unconstitutional. It set the precedence for judicial review that gives the Supreme Court power to declare laws unconstitutional.

McColloch vs. Maryland (1819) - "The power to tax is the power to destroy". In this decision the court decided that the Federal gov could tax a state bank but a State could not tax a National bank. The rationale is that if states could tax the federal government it would weaken our government system.

Gibbon vs. Ogden (1824) - Established that the Federal government has supreme power at regulating interstate commerce (trading between states)

Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857) - Dred Scott was a slave who mover with his owner to a Free State. He sued for freedom stating that living in a free state made him free. The court ruled (1) slaves are property not citizens and therefore cannot sue (2) Congress cannot deprive people (the owner) the right to take property wherever they want in the US (3) the Missouri Compromise, which banned the spread of slavery into new territories north of Missouri, was unconstitutional. The South loved this decision. The North hated it.

Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) - Upheld legal (de jure) segregation. "Separate but equal IS equal).

Schenck vs. United States (1919) - When unlimited freedom of the press or speech could pose a "clear and present danger" to the US it can be restricted. Schenck, during WW1 printed pamphlets urging men to resist the draft. The court ruled this was dangerous and said the government could restrict the freedom of the press/speech. It's the reason we can't yell "Fire" in a crowded theater and claim 'freedom of speech'.

Korematsu vs United States (1944) - the Supreme Court ruled during WW2 to allow the removal of Japanese-Americans (US citizens) to relocation camps away from the coast. These were Americans, who committed no crimes, held without due process. The court said, under the circumstances, that it was OK.

Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas (1954) - Ended legal (de jure) segregation. This decision reversed Plessy vs Ferguson and ruled that "seperate but equal IS NOT equal".

Mapp vs. Ohio (1961) - Police must have a search warrant to search your home.

Engel vs. Vitale (1962) - Prayers in public schools ruled unconstitutional.

Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963) - If you can't afford a lawyer one must be provided to you free of charge.

Escobedo vs. illinois (1964) - You have the right to remain silent. Forced confessions cannot be used against you.

Miranda vs. Arizona (1966) - Established Miranda Warnings. Upon arrest suspects must be informed that they have the "right to remain silent" and that anything they say can be used against them, that they have the right to an attorney, and can be provided with an attorney even if they cannot afford it.

Tinker vs. Des Moines School District (1969) - Students were suspended for wearing black arm bands to protest the war in Vietnam. The Supreme Court ruled it was protected "speech". Students cannot be barred from wearing certain items of clothing unless they ban passes the "Tinker test". If the clothing is disruptive to the education process or could potentially lead to unrest/violence then it could be banned. Otherwise students have the freedom to wear what they want.

Roe vs. Wade (1973) - Abortion was illegal. A woman sued for the right to end her pregnancy claiming that preventing her to do so violated her 14th amendment right as well as her right to privacy. She won. After this case abortion is legal in all states.

New Jersey vs. T.L.O. (1985)- The court ruled a student's right to privacy can be limited in schools under certain circumstances. In this case lockers were searched an illegal items were found and turned over to the police. The defendants argued their lockers were searched without a warrant and therefore the items cannot be used against them. The court ruled differently.

U.S. vs. Nixon (1973) - President Nixon might have broken the law and there might have been recordings of the illegal actions. Congress asked for the recording and Nixon refused to turn them over claiming "Executive Privilege". The court ruled that he must hand them over and that Executive Privilege cannot be used to withhold evidence that may be criminal in nature. This is an example of the court intervening in a dispute among the other two branches of government.

University of California vs. Bakke (1978) - Affirmative action programs are legal.