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Landmark Court Decisions


1803 - Supreme Court establishes its power to review federal laws.

Marbury v. Madison: Really important decision. It said for the first time that the Supreme Court has power to say that a law passed by the United States Congress is unconstitutional. A new power that shaped our legal system.

1803 - Supreme Court power to review of state laws.

Fletcher v. Peck: The first time the Court actually declared a law unconstitutional.

1819 - Federal powers and limitations of states.

McCulloch v. Maryland: This decision said the federal government can do things unless the constitution spells out that is cannot. State governments can not stop the federal government actions.

1824 - Congress can regulate interstate commerce.

Gibbons v. Ogden: The Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate shipping from one state to another.

1857- Blacks can't be citizens. Slavery okayed in U.S. territories.

Dred Scott v. Sandford: The court ruled black people could not be U.S. citizens. And they couldn't sue in federal courts. It also ruled the federal government couldn't forbid slavery in territories that were waiting to become states. This case was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments.

1896 - "Separate but equal" facilities are constitutional.

Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate facilities - like schools, water fountains, trains - for blacks and whites were found to be constitutional.

1937 - Federal power to regulate labor relations.

National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation: Supreme Court decision said the federal government could regulate labor relations.

1944 - Japanese-Americans in U.S. concentration camps.

Korematsu v. United States: The court's opinion said that Japanese-Americans could be interned in camps and their basic constitutional could be taken away. It happened during the Second World War when Japan as our enemy.

1954 - Segregated school declared unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education: Segregated schools were found to be unconstitutional because they violate the guarantees in the 14th Amendment. This ruling overturned Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896.

1961 - Tainted evidence not allowed.

Mapp v. Ohio: Evidence that was gotten by unreasonable searches and seizures violates the 4th Amendment. It can't be used in a criminal trials in states courts.

1963 - Criminal suspects have right to attorney at government expense.

Gideon v. Wainwright: People charged with serious crimes have the right to a defense lawyer. The state has to pay for it if the defendant can't.

1964 - Libel suits by government officials against media.

New York Times v. Sullivan: If public officials want to prove they were lied about (libelled), it's not enough to show the statement is false but also that it was published falsely on purpose.

1965 - Laws against contraceptives are unconstitutional.

Griswold v. Connecticut: Married people have the right to use birth control products. Selling them is legal. (Not long after, the same rights were given to unmarried adults.)

1966 - Police have to advise suspects of their rights.

Miranda v. Arizona: Police have to tell criminal suspects of their rights to remain silent, to talk to a lawyer and have one appointed if they can't afford one. If the suspect says he doesn't want to talk, the police have to stop the questioning.

1969 - Armbands worn in schools.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District: Thanks to First Amendment rights, armbands are permitted to be worn as a way to protest, even on public-school grounds.

1971 - Right to publish classified documents.

New York Times v. United States: The U.S. government wanted to keep the Pentagon Papers classified. The Court said there was a First Amendment right to publish them.

1973 - Gender bias not allowed.

Frontiero v. Richardson: It's unconstitutional to discriminate between genders. Giving benefits to wives of male soldiers, but not to husbands of females soldiers, is not allowed. Assuming that women are always dependent on men is not allowed.

1973 - Laws against abortion overturned.

Roe v. Wade: Laws outlawing abortion before viability were ruled unconstitutional. Most restrictions during the first trimester are not allowed. Only restrictions based on health are allowed in the second trimester.

1974 - President not above the law.

United States v. Nixon: The laws apply to President of the United States.

1978 - Affirmative Action.

Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke: Seat-asides, based on race, that impact educational opportunities are a violation for the 14th Amendments Equal Protection Clause. But the decision still allows the possibility of race consideration in admissions.

1989 - Flag burning cannot be banned.

Texas v. Johnson: Laws that ban burning the American flag are a violation of free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

1992 - Restriction of abortion rights.

Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey: The decision continued to support Roe v. Wade rights, but permitted more restriction in the first trimester.

2000 - No recount in 2000 presidential election.

Bush v. Gore: The Supreme Court decision ended the recount of contested votes in Florida. George W. Bush became president.