Land Mark Supreme Court Cases
Marbury vs. Madison (1803): Established the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.
McCulloch vs. Maryland (1819): Ruled that in a conflict between national and state power, that
national government is supreme. This was declared unconstitutional for the states to tax the
Gibbons vs. Ogden (1824): Established the federal government’s right to regulate commerce
between states (interstate commerce).
The Supreme Court and Race
Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896): Established the principle of “separate but equal” applications of the
law regarding race.
Brown vs. Board of Education (1954): Overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson case. The court ruled
separate educational facilities IS NOT equal.
The Heart of Atlanta Motes, Inc. vs. United States (1964): Tested the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The court held that commerce clause allowed Congress to regulate local commerce and that the
civil rights act was constitutional.
Swann vs. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971): The court ruled that North
Carolina school districts had the duty to dismantle school segregation.
The Supreme Court Protects Freedom of Expression and Religion
Texas vs. Johnson (1989): The court decided that flag burning falls under freedom of speech and
is protected by the First Amendment
Engle vs. Vitale (1962): Prayer not allowed in Public Schools (unconstitutional)
Mapp vs. Ohio (1961): The court ruled that evidence obtained without a search warrant was
obtained illegally and was not admissible in court.
Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963): Right to adequate defense, a lawyer
Miranda vs. Arizona (1966): Court ruled that law enforcement officials have to inform suspects
of their legal rights (You have the right to remain silent). It upheld the 5th amendment against self
Furman vs. Georgia (1972): Ruled that capital punishment was “cruel and unusual punishment”
Gregg v. Georgia (1976): The court ruled that in extreme cases, such as intentional murder, the
death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment.
Tinker vs. Des Moines (1969): Students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War
had the right to freely express their opinions. The 1st amendment is guaranteed
New Jersey vs. TLO (1985): The Supreme Court ruled that a Principal’s search of a student’s
purse after she was caught smoking did not violate the 4th Amendment because the state’s interest
in educating minors permitted such searches.
Bethel School District No. 403 vs. Fraiser (1986): The court found that a school district in
Washington State had the constitutional right authority to limit student’s freedom of speech.
Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier (1988): The Supreme Court upheld the school’s right to place
restrictions on a student newspaper.
Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke (1978): The court upheld the principle of
affirmative action when a white man protested that he was not admitted to medical school
because his spot went to a black applicant. This is protected by the 14th Amendment’s equal
Other Landmark Decisions
U.S. vs. Nixon: President is not guaranteed executive privilege in a criminal investigation.
Roe vs. Wade: Legalized a woman’s right to an abortion under certain circumstances.
Dred Scott vs. Sanford: Ruled that congress could not prohibit slavery in the United States
territories and that enslaved African Americans and their descendants were not United States
Schneck vs. United States: Held that free speech could be limited if there was "clear and
present danger" that illegal action might result from the speech.
NY Times vs. U.S.: Held that prior restraint or censorship was unconstitutional unless the
government could prove serious and immediate harm to the nation.
Muller vs. Oregon: Ruled that states could protect women workers if the states had a reasonable
Reynolds vs. Sims: Held that unequal representation violated the Fourteenth Amendment and
established the principle of “one person, one vote."
Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services: Ruled against the use of public funds and
buildings for counseling about the performing abortions.