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					            United States Supreme Court Cases of Great Importance
CASE NAME        YEAR ISSUE                    DECISION         CONSTITUTIONAL
                                                                PRINCIPLE(S); LAWS
Marbury v.       1803   Is Marbury entitled    Yes, but see     Judicial review
Madison                 to his appointment?    discussion       established here (see
                                               below            also Federalist #78)
Fletcher v.      1810   Can a state pass a     No               Contract clause; state
Peck                    law and invalidate a                    can’t impair contract
McCulloch v.     1819   Can Maryland tax       No               Federalism, implied-
Maryland                the BUS?                                powers, necessary-and-
                                                                proper, supremacy
Gibbons v.       1824   Can New York           No               Only Congress can
Ogden                   regulate steamboat                      regulate interstate
                        commerce between                        commerce; federalism;
                        NY and New                              supremacy clause
Worcester v.     1831   Can a state regulate   No               Supremacy clause
Georgia                 relations with
Dred Scott v.    1857   Can a slave sue for    No               Slaves are property;
Sandford                freedom?                                Africans can’t be
Plessy v.        1896   Does Louisiana         No               Equal protection;
Ferguson                violate 14th                            privileges and
                        Amendment equal                         immunities
                        protection clause
                        with Jim Crow law?
Muller v.        1908   Does an Oregon law     No, but          14th Amendment liberty
Oregon                  limiting the hours a   watch out        provision; freedom of
                        woman can work         for the          contract
                        violate her rights?    argument.
Schenck v.       1919   Does Schenck enjoy     No (if there     1st Amendment:
United States           freedom of             is a “clear      freedom of speech and
                        press/speech during    and present      press
                        war?                   danger”)
Gitlow v. New 1925      Can New York           Yes, but         1st Amendment:
York                    punish Gitlow for      watch out        freedom of speech and
                        violation of a State   for the larger   press; police powers
                        criminal anarchy       issue.
Brown v.         1954   Does Jim Crow          Yes              14th Amendment; equal
Board of                violate the 14th                        protection clause; race
Education               Amendment?                              discrimination
Mapp v. Ohio    1961    Can evidence seized      No           4th Amendment search
                        illegally be used to                  and seizure provision
Abington        1963    Does prayer in           Yes          Freedom of religion;
School                  public schools                        establishment of
District v.             violate 1st/14th                      religion;
Schempp                 Amendments?                           1st /14th Amendments
Gideon v.       1963    Does state’s failure     Yes          Right to counsel;
Wainwright              to appoint counsel in                 6th/14th Amendments
                        criminal trial violate
Griswold v.     1965    Can a state prohibit     No           9th Amendment; Right
Connecticut             use of                                to privacy
                        contraceptives in
Harper v.       1966    Can a state impose       No           14th Amendment; equal
Virginia                poll taxes for state                  protection clause
Board of                elections?
Miranda v.      1966    Must police notify a     Yes          5th Amendment; right to
Arizona                 defendant of the                      counsel; self-
                        right to remain silent                incrimination
                        and the right to
                        counsel before
Roe v. Wade     1973    Can a state prohibit     No           9th and 14th
                        abortion?                             Amendments; privacy
United States   1974    Can the president        Not always   Separation of powers;
v. Nixon                claim “executive                      judicial review
                        privilege” relating to
Regents of the 1978     Did UC violate           Yes (but     14th Amendment; equal
University of           CRA of 1964 in           watch out    protection; Civil Rights
California at           denying Bakke (a         for the      Act of 1964
Davis v.                white) admission to      qualifier)
Bakke                   medical school?

 Notes:        1) Earl Warren was Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969, during which he led
 the Court in effecting social change through Court decisions. This can be labeled
 ―judicial activism,‖ and many at the time thought the Court went too far with its
 decisions. What do you think? Did the Court go too far, or did the Court force the
 states to be more sensitive to basic freedoms (privacy, religion) and the needs of
 minorities and the poor?

            2) The major source of the information below is the Oyez Project at
Facts of the Case
The case began on March 2, 1801, when an obscure Federalist, William Marbury, was
designated as a justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. Marbury and several others
were appointed to government posts created by Congress in the last days of John Adams's
presidency, but these last-minute appointments were never fully finalized. The disgruntled
appointees invoked an act of Congress and sued for their jobs in the Supreme Court.
Is Marbury entitled to his appointment? Is his lawsuit the correct way to get it? And, is the
Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requests?
Yes; yes; and it depends. The justices held, through Marshall's forceful argument, that on the
last issue the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an
act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." In other words, when the
Constitution--the nation's highest law--conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid.
This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of judicial review. The USSC struck down a
portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that gave original jurisdiction to the Court, when in fact the
Court found that it did not have such jurisdiction.

Facts of the Case
In 1795, the Georgia state legislature passed a land grant awarding territory to four companies.
The following year, however, the legislature voided the law and declared all rights and claims
under it to be invalid. In 1800, John Peck acquired land that was part of the original legislative
grant. He then sold the land to Robert Fletcher three years later, claiming that past sales of the
land had been legitimate. Fletcher argued that since the original sale of the land had been
declared invalid, Peck had no legal right to sell the land and thus committed a breach of
Could the contract between Fletcher and Peck be invalidated by an act of the Georgia
In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that since the estate had been legally "passed into the
hands of a purchaser for a valuable consideration," the Georgia legislature could not take away
the land or invalidate the contract. Noting that the Constitution did not permit bills of attainder or
ex post facto laws, the Court held that laws annulling contracts or grants made by previous
legislative acts were constitutionally impermissible. [Article I, Section 10, of the U.S.
Constitution provides that no state shall pass any law "impairing the Obligation of Contracts."
Broad interpretation of this clause by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall
made it the basic constitutional instrument for the protection of private property in the
nineteenth century—a primary link between law and economic growth and a basic source of
national authority over the states. This note in brackets from at]

Facts of the Case
In 1816, Congress chartered The Second Bank of the United States. In 1818, the state of
Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. James W. McCulloch, the cashier of
the Baltimore branch of the bank, refused to pay the tax.
The case presented two questions: Did Congress have the authority to establish the bank? Did
the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers?
In a unanimous decision, the Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate the bank
and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the
execution of constitutional powers. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Marshall noted that
Congress possessed unenumerated powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution. Marshall
also held that while the states retained the power of taxation, "the constitution and the laws
made in pursuance thereof are supreme . . . they control the constitution and laws of the
respective states, and cannot be controlled by them."

Facts of the Case
A New York state law gave two individuals the exclusive right to operate steamboats on waters
within state jurisdiction. Laws like this one were duplicated elsewhere which led to friction as
some states would require foreign (out-of-state) boats to pay substantial fees for navigation
privileges. In this case a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New
Jersey challenged the monopoly that New York had granted, which forced him to obtain a
special operating permit from the state to navigate on its waters.
Did the State of New York exercise authority in a realm reserved exclusively to Congress,
namely, the regulation of interstate commerce?
The Court found that New York's licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was
inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade. The New York law was
invalid by virtue of the Supremacy Clause. In his opinion, Chief Justice Marshall developed a
clear definition of the word commerce, which included navigation on interstate waterways. He
also gave meaning to the phrase "among the several states" in the Commerce Clause.
Marshall's was one of the earliest and most influential opinions concerning this important
clause. He concluded that regulation of navigation by steamboat operators and others for
purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by the

Facts of the Case
In September 1831, Samuel A. Worcester and others, all non-Native Americans, were indicted
in the Supreme Court for the county of Gwinnett in the state of Georgia for "residing within the
limits of the Cherokee nation without a license" and "without having taken the oath to support
and defend the constitution and laws of the state of Georgia." They were indicted under an
1830 act of the Georgia legislature entitled "an act to prevent the exercise of assumed and
arbitrary power by all persons, under pretext of authority from the Cherokee Indians." Among
other things, Worcester argued that the state could not maintain the prosecution because the
statute violated the Constitution, treaties between the United States and the Cherokee nation,
and an act of Congress entitled "an act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes."
Worcester was convicted and sentenced to "hard labour in the penitentiary for four years." The
U.S. Supreme Court received the case on a writ of error.
Does the state of Georgia have the authority to regulate the intercourse between citizens of its
state and members of the Cherokee Nation?
No. In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court held that the Georgia act,
under which Worcester was prosecuted, violated the Constitution, treaties, and laws of the
United States. Noting that the "treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian
territory as completely separated from that of the states; and provide that all intercourse with
them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the union," Chief Justice Marshall
argued, "The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which
the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and
this nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States." The
Georgia act thus interfered with the federal government's authority and was unconstitutional.
Justice Henry Baldwin dissented for procedural reasons and on the merits.
DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD (1857) (Note: Actual name is Sanford, but Court recorder
misspelled the name and wrote Sandford—I think! – or so I’ve been told.)
Facts of the Case
Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri. From 1833 to 1843, he resided in Illinois (a free state) and
in an area of the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise
of 1820. After returning to Missouri, Scott sued unsuccessfully in the Missouri courts for his
freedom, claiming that his residence in free territory made him a free man. Scott then brought a
new suit in federal court. Scott's master maintained that no pure-blooded Negro of African
descent and the descendant of slaves could be a citizen in the sense of Article III of the
Was Dred Scott free or slave?
Dred Scott was a slave. Under Articles III and IV, argued Taney, no one but a citizen of the
United States could be a citizen of a state, and that only Congress could confer national
citizenship. Taney reached the conclusion that no person descended from an American slave
had ever been a citizen for Article III purposes. The Court then held the Missouri Compromise
unconstitutional, hoping to end the slavery question once and for all.

Facts of the Case
The state of Louisiana enacted a law that required separate railway cars for blacks and whites.
In 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy--who was seven-eighths Caucasian--took a seat in a "whites
only" car of a Louisiana train. He refused to move to the car reserved for blacks and was
Is Louisiana's law mandating racial segregation on its trains an unconstitutional infringement on
both the privileges and immunities and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth
No, the state law is within constitutional boundaries. The majority, in an opinion authored by
Justice Henry Billings Brown, upheld state-imposed racial segregation. The justices based their
decision on the separate-but-equal doctrine, that separate facilities for blacks and whites
satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment so long as they were equal. (The phrase, "separate but
equal" was not part of the opinion.) Justice Brown conceded that the 14th amendment intended
to establish absolute equality for the races before the law. But Brown noted that "in the nature
of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce
social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races unsatisfactory
to either." In short, segregation does not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination. [Dr. Burns
add: Justice Harlan wrote a great dissenting opinion here. You have a copy somewhere in
your binder(s)—I gave Harlan’s dissent to you earlier in the year.]

Facts of the Case
Oregon enacted a law that limited women to ten hours of work in factories and laundries.
Does the Oregon law violate a woman's freedom of contract implicit in the liberty protected by
due process of the Fourteenth Amendment?
There was no constitutional violation. The factory and laundry owners claimed that there was
no reasonable connection between the law and public health, safety, or welfare. In a famous
brief in defense of the Oregon law, attorney Louis Brandeis elaborately detailed expert reports
on the harmful physical, economic and social effects of long working hours on women. Brewer's
opinion was based on the proposition that physical and social differences between the sexes
warranted a different rule respecting labor contracts. . . . Brewer's opinion conveyed the
accepted wisdom of the day: that women were unequal and inferior to men.
SCHENCK V. U.S. (1919)
Facts of the Case
During World War I, Schenck mailed circulars to draftees. The circulars suggested that the draft
was a monstrous wrong motivated by the capitalist system. The circulars urged "Do not submit
to intimidation" but advised only peaceful action such as petitioning to repeal the Conscription
Act. Schenck was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act by attempting to cause
insubordination in the military and to obstruct recruitment.
Are Schenck's actions (words, expression) protected by the free speech clause of the First
Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, concluded that Schenck is not protected in this
situation. The character of every act depends on the circumstances. "The question in every
case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to
create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress
has a right to prevent." During wartime, utterances tolerable in peacetime can be punished.

Facts of the Case
Gitlow, a socialist, was arrested for distributing copies of a "left-wing manifesto" that called for
the establishment of socialism through strikes and class action of any form. Gitlow was
convicted under a state criminal anarchy law, which punished advocating the overthrow of the
government by force. At his trial, Gitlow argued that since there was no resulting action flowing
from the manifesto's publication, the statute penalized utterances without propensity to
incitement of concrete action. The New York courts had decided that anyone who advocated
the doctrine of violent revolution violated the law.
Does the New York law punishing the advocacy of overthrowing the government an
unconstitutional violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
Threshold issue: Does the First Amendment apply to the states? Yes, by virtue of the liberty
protected by due process that no state shall deny (14th Amendment). On the merits, a state
may forbid both speech and publication if they have a tendency to result in action dangerous to
public security, even though such utterances create no clear and present danger. The rationale
of the majority has sometimes been called the "dangerous tendency" test. The legislature may
decide that an entire class of speech is so dangerous that it should be prohibited. Those
legislative decisions will be upheld if not unreasonable, and the defendant will be punished
even if her speech created no danger at all. [Dr. Burns add: Incidental to the case was
something much more important in the long run: the “incorporation” of most of the Bill of Rights
freedoms and protections under the 14 Amendment. Recall that the Bill of Rights talks about
Congress and does not mention the states. The 14 Amendment (1868) says that “No State
shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the
United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
With Gitlow, the Court began a process of incorporating Bill or Rights protections within the 14
Amendment. The “Incorporation Doctrine” is huge—really huge.]

Facts of the Case
Black children were denied admission to public schools attended by white children under laws
requiring or permitting segregation according to the races. The white and black schools
approached equality in terms of buildings, curricula, qualifications, and teacher salaries. This
case was decided together with Briggs v. Elliott and Davis v. County School Board of Prince
Edward County.
Does the segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprive the
minority children of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment?
Yes. Despite the equalization of the schools by "objective" factors, intangible issues foster and
maintain inequality. Racial segregation in public education has a detrimental effect on minority
children because it is interpreted as a sign of inferiority. The long-held doctrine that separate
facilities were permissible provided they were equal was rejected. Separate but equal is
inherently unequal in the context of public education. The unanimous opinion sounded the
death-knell for all forms of state-maintained racial separation. [Dr. Burns add: “state
maintained racial separation” is called J___ C_____ (if you don’t know by now, you are truly
one of life’s treacherous miscreants). Further, if you don’t know the name of the 1896 decision
involved with the “long-held doctrine that separate facilities were permissible provided they
were equal,” you are truly among the worst treacherous miscreants in the history of treacherous

MAPP V. OHIO (1961)
Facts of the Case
Dolree Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials after an admittedly illegal police
search of her home for a fugitive. She appealed her conviction on the basis of freedom of
Were the confiscated materials protected by the First Amendment? (May evidence obtained
through a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment be admitted in a state criminal
The Court brushed aside the First Amendment issue and declared that "all evidence obtained
by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by [the Fourth Amendment],
inadmissible in a state court." Mapp had been convicted on the basis of illegally obtained
evidence. This was an historic -- and controversial -- decision. It placed the requirement of
excluding illegally obtained evidence from court at all levels of the government. The decision
launched the Court on a troubled course of determining how and when to apply the
exclusionary rule. [Dr. Burns add: The 4 Amendment provides, in part: “The right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated. . . .”

Facts of the Case
The Abington case concerns Bible-reading in Pennsylvania public schools. At the beginning of
the school day, students who attended public schools in the state of Pennsylvania were
required to read at least ten verses from the Bible. After completing these readings, school
authorities required all Abington Township students to recite the Lord's Prayer. Students could
be excluded from these exercises by a written note from their parents to the school. In a related
case -- Murray v. Curlett -- a Baltimore statute required Bible-reading or the recitation of the
Lord's Prayer at open exercises in public schools. Murray and his mother, professed atheists --
challenged the prayer requirement.
Did the Pennsylvania law and Abington's policy, requiring public school students to participate
in classroom religious exercises, violate the religious freedom of students as protected by the
First and Fourteenth Amendments?
The Court found such a violation. The required activities encroached on both the Free Exercise
Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment since the readings and
recitations were essentially religious ceremonies and were "intended by the State to be so."
Furthermore, argued Justice Clark, the ability of a parent to excuse a child from these
ceremonies by a written note was irrelevant since it did not prevent the school's actions from
violating the Establishment Clause.
Facts of the Case
Gideon was charged in a Florida state court with a felony for breaking and entering. He lacked
funds and was unable to hire a lawyer to prepare his defense. When he requested the court to
appoint an attorney for him, the court refused, stating that it was only obligated to appoint
counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases. Gideon defended himself in the trial; he was
convicted by a jury and the court sentenced him to five years in a state prison.
Did the state court's failure to appoint counsel for Gideon violate his right to a fair trial and due
process of law as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?
In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that Gideon had a right to be represented by a court-
appointed attorney. In this case the Court found that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of
counsel was a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial, which should be made applicable to
the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Black called
it an "obvious truth" that a fair trial for a poor defendant could not be guaranteed without the
assistance of counsel. Those familiar with the American system of justice, commented Black,
recognized that "lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries."

Facts of the Case
Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut. Both
she and the Medical Director for the League gave information, instruction, and other medical
advice to married couples concerning birth control. Griswold and her colleague were convicted
under a Connecticut law which criminalized the provision of counseling, and other medical
treatment, to married persons for purposes of preventing conception.
Does the Constitution protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on a couple's
ability to be counseled in the use of contraceptives?
Though the Constitution does not explicitly protect a general right to privacy, the various
guarantees within the Bill of Rights create penumbras, or zones, that establish a right to
privacy. Together, the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, create a new constitutional
right, the right to privacy in marital relations. The Connecticut statute conflicts with the exercise
of this right and is therefore null and void.

Facts of the Case
Annie E. Harper, a resident of Virginia, filed suit alleging that the state's poll tax was
unconstitutional. After a three-judge district court dismissed the complaint, the case went to the
Supreme Court. This case was decided together with Butts v. Harrison.
Did the Virginia poll tax violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that making voter affluence an electoral standard violated
the Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that wealth or fee-paying had no relation to
voting qualifications. The Court also noted that the Equal Protection Clause was not "shackled
to the political theory of a particular era" and that notions of what constituted equal treatment
under the Clause were subject to change.

Facts of the Case
The Court was called upon to consider the constitutionality of a number of instances, ruled on
jointly, in which defendants were questioned "while in custody or otherwise deprived of [their]
freedom in any significant way." In several cases, suspects were questioned by police officers,
detectives, or prosecuting attorneys in rooms that cut them off from the outside world. In none
of the cases were suspects given warnings of their rights at the outset of their interrogation.
Does the police practice of interrogating individuals without notifying them of their right to
counsel and their protection against self-incrimination violate the Fifth Amendment?
The Court held that prosecutors could not use statements stemming from custodial
interrogation of defendants unless they demonstrated the use of procedural safeguards
"effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination." The Court specifically outlined the
necessary aspects of police warnings to suspects, including warnings of the right to remain
silent and the right to have counsel present during interrogations.

ROE V. WADE (1973)
Facts of the Case
Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. Texas law prohibited
abortions except to save the pregnant woman's life.
Does the Constitution embrace a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?
The Court held that a woman's right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy (recognized in
Griswold v. Connecticut) protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision gave a woman
total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state
interest for the second and third trimesters. As a result, the laws of 46 states were affected by
the Court's ruling.

Facts of the Case
A grand jury returned indictments against seven of President Richard Nixon's closest aides in
the Watergate affair. The special prosecutor appointed by Nixon and the defendants sought
audio tapes of conversations recorded by Nixon in the Oval Office. Nixon asserted that he was
immune from the subpoena claiming "executive privilege," which is the right to withhold
information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within
the executive branch or to secure the national interest. Decided together with Nixon v. United
Is the President's right to safeguard certain information, using his "executive privilege"
confidentiality power, entirely immune from judicial review?
No. The Court held that neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the generalized need
for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute,
unqualified, presidential privilege. The Court granted that there was a limited executive privilege
in areas of military or diplomatic affairs, but gave preference to "the fundamental demands of
due process of law in the fair administration of justice." Therefore, the president must obey the
subpoena and produce the tapes and documents. Nixon resigned shortly after the release of
the tapes.

Facts of the Case
Allan Bakke, a thirty-five-year-old white man, had twice applied for admission to the University
of California Medical School at Davis. He was rejected both times. The school reserved sixteen
places in each entering class of one hundred for "qualified" minorities, as part of the university's
affirmative action program, in an effort to redress longstanding, unfair minority exclusions from
the medical profession. Bakke's qualifications (college GPA and test scores) exceeded those of
any of the minority students admitted in the two years Bakke's applications were rejected.
Bakke contended, first in the California courts, then in the Supreme Court, that he was
excluded from admission solely on the basis of race.
Did the University of California violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause,
and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by practicing an affirmative action policy that resulted in the
repeated rejection of Bakke's application for admission to its medical school?
No and yes. There was no single majority opinion. Four of the justices contended that any
racial quota system supported by government violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Justice
Lewis F. Powell, Jr., agreed, casting the deciding vote ordering the medical school to admit
Bakke. However, in his opinion, Powell argued that the rigid use of racial quotas as employed
at the school violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The remaining
four justices held that the use of race as a criterion in admissions decisions in higher education
was constitutionally permissible. Powell joined that opinion as well, contending that the use of
race was permissible as one of several admission criteria. So, the Court managed to minimize
white opposition to the goal of equality (by finding for Bakke) while extending gains for racial
minorities through affirmative action.

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