Key Supreme Court Cases

  • Marbury vs. Madison

    Marbury vs. Madison
    John Adams had appointed Marbury to be jusitice of the peace for the District of Columbia and Madison refused to issue the appointment lettter signed by Adams so Marbury Sued. The decision of this case, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, siad that the Supreme Court did not have the power to force Madison to act but established the principal of judicial review, meaning that the Supreme Court ultimately has the power to decide if any federal or state law is unconstitutional.
  • Fletcher v. Peck

    Fletcher v. Peck
    Georgia claimed possession of the Yazoo lands and sold the tracts to four land development companies which was approved in the Yazoo Land Act of 1795. Peck had purchased some of this land and later sold it to Fletcher who claimed that Peck did not own it when he sold it. This is the first case in which the Supreme Court ruled a state law unconstitutional. It also helped create a growing precedent for the sanctity of legal contracts and hinted that Native Americans did own their land.
  • Dartmouth College vs. Woodward

    Dartmouth College vs. Woodward
    The president of Dartmouth College was deposed by its trustees, leading to the New Hampshire legislature attempting to force the college to become a public institution. The Supreme Court upheld the sanctity of the original charter of the college, which came before the state. This case established the legal structure of modern corporations began to develop, when the Court held that private corporate charters are protected from state interference by the Contract Clause of the Constitution.
  • McCulloch vs. Maryland

    McCulloch vs. Maryland
    Maryland imposed a tax on all notes of banks not chartered in Maryland to impede the Second National Bank but McCulloch refused to pay the tax. The Supreme Court invoked the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution and established that the Constitution grants to Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution's express powers, in order to create a functional national government and the state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government.
  • Gibbons vs. Ogden

    Gibbons vs. Ogden
    The acts of the Legislature of the State of New York granted exclusive navigation privileges of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State. Gibbons operated a competing steamboat service between Elizabethtown, New Jersey and New York City that had been licensed by the United States Congress. This case established held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

    Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
    Georgia enacted a series of laws which stripped the Cherokee of their rights under the laws of the state which intended to force the Cherokee to leave. The Cherokee sought a federal injunction against laws passed depriving them of rights within its boundaries. The Supreme Court did not hear the case on its merits. It ruled that it had no original jurisdiction in the matter, as the Cherokee were a dependent the US and was not a "foreign State" within the meaning of Article III.
  • Worcester v. Georgia

    Worcester v. Georgia
    Georgia passed laws restricting authority of the Cherokee over their lands, one of which required all whites living in Cherokee Indian Territory to obtain a state license to live there, which Worcester and Butler violated. The Supreme Court established the doctrine that the national government of the United States, and not individual states, had authority in American Indian affairs.
  • Dred Scott vs. Sandford

    Dred Scott vs. Sandford
    Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia and then followed his master to Missouri. When his master died, Scott was taken to Illinois, a free state. Scott sued his first master's wife, claiming he was no longer a slave because he had become free after living in a free state. At a time when the country was in deep conflict over slavery, the Supreme Court decided that Dred Scott was not protected by the constitution and therefore not a “citizen of the state."
  • Reese vs. U.S.

    Reese vs. U.S.
    This was the Supreme Court's first voting rights case under the Fifteenth Amendment and the Enforcement Act of 1870. A Kentucky electoral official had refused to register an African American's vote in a municipal election and was indicted under the 1870 act. The Supreme Court upheld the literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses as constitutional. This undermined all the rights given to African Americans in the Fifteenth Amendment.
  • Munn vs. Illinois

    Munn vs. Illinois
    Munn appealed to the Supreme Court to declare the Granger laws unconstitutional. The case ruled 7-2 with the state of Illinois because the Fourteenth Amendment does not prevent the State of Illinois from regulating charges for use of a business' grain elevators.
  • Wabash vs. Illinois

    Wabash vs. Illinois
    In 1886, the case of Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad Company v. Illinois, was argued about state regulation of transportation taxes and fees. The state of Illinois had been prohibiting long and short haul clauses in the transportation contracts. In a 6 to 3 vote, the case resulted in denial of state power to regulate interstate rates for railroads. The decision led to creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission.
  • United States vs. E.C. Knight Company

    United States vs. E.C. Knight Company
    In 1892 the American Sugar Refining Company gained control of E.C. Knight's company which resulted of a 98% sugar monopoly. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of the American Sugar Refining Company saying sugar was based on manufacturing not trade.
  • Pollock vs. Farmers' Loan & Trust Company

    Pollock vs. Farmers' Loan & Trust Company
    Charles Pollock had owned ten shares in the Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. The company announced they would pay the Wilson-Gorman tariff. This wouldmake the shareholders liable for taxation. In order to prevent this, Pollock sued the Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. In a 5 to 4 vote, the court ruled in Pollock's favor. The direct tax under the Wilson-Gorman tariff was ruled unconstitutional because they were not direct taxes that could be split up later. The 16th amendment later nullified this ruling.
  • Plessy vs. Ferguson

    Plessy vs. Ferguson
    Homer Plessy was one-eigth black and seven-eigths white, and, under the law, required to sit in the "colored only" car. Plessy boarded a Louisiana train on the "whites only" car. He refused to vacate and was arrested. Plessy argued how Louisiana's Jim Crow laws, separate but equal, defied the 13th and 14th amendments. In a 7 to 1 vote, Plessy lost under the reasoning that the accomadations were "separate, but equal." This case defined the "separate but equal" laws.
  • Northern Securities Case

    Northern Securities Case
    J.P. Morgan and James J. Hill owned two large corporations in the railroad industry. Morgan and Hill saw if they worked together they could gain control of Burlington Railroad. Morgan and Hill arranged a new corporation which they jointly controlled called the Northern Securities Company. Theodore Roosevelt saw this as a bad monopoly and decided to bring it to court under a violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The Supreme Court upholds the antitrust suit against Northern Securities Company.
  • Lochner vs. New York

    Lochner vs. New York
    Lochner owned a bakery and was convicted for making one of his workers work more than 60 hours a week. New York's labor law limited the number of hours a day and week a baker could work each day. Lochner argued that Labor law was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and that he had the right to free contract. New York argued that the workers needed to be protected from working dangerously long hours. The court overturns New York law setting maximum working hours. workers.
  • Muller vs. Oregon

    Muller vs. Oregon
    Oregon legislature passed an act saying that women could not work in any mechanical establishment, factory, or laundry for more than 10 hour. Muller violated it and brought his case to the Supreme Court. Muller argued that the act set in place violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Oregon presented evidence on the physiology of women and the effect of long hours on women. The court upheld the Oregon regulation and distinguished the difference between the sexes but did not overrule Lochner vs. NY.
  • Standard Oil Co. vs. U.S.

    Standard Oil Co. vs. U.S.
    John D. Rockefeller controlled the nation's oil business and scorned congressional efforts to outlaw combinations in restraint of trade. Theodore Roosevelt sought to prosecute Standard Oil under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Supreme Court orders dissolution of Standard Oil because it conspired to restrain the trade and commerce in violation of the Sherman Act, and was split into many smaller companies.
  • Schenck vs. United States

    Schenck vs. United States
    Charles Schenck was the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America who sent out leaflets that promoted obstruction to the draft. Schenck was charged with violation of the Espionage Act by attempting to cause havoc in the military and to hinder recruitment. The case was brought to the Supreme Court in which they ruled it was not protected by the First Amendment, because it created a clear and present danger to enlistment and recruiting armed forces during WWI.
  • Trial of Socco and Vanzetti

    Trial of Socco and Vanzetti
    The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti wasn't a Supreme Court case, but is important because it shows America's division and antiradical sentiments. Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of shooting a paymaster and gaurd in a shoe factory on. Democrats rushed to their defense, while Republicans believed the men should die.The prosecution did not present enough evidence for an airtight case. The Italian anarchists, however, were found guilty in 1921. Prejudices had obviously tainted the trial.
  • Adkins vs. Children's Hospital

    Adkins vs. Children's Hospital
    Adkins vs. Children's Hospital overturned the ruling of Muller vs. Oregon, which gave minimum wages and special protection to women. The Supreme Court ruled this was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. They thought snce women now had the right to vote, they were equal to men and no longer needed special protection or treatment.
  • Scopes Trial

    Scopes Trial
    The Scopes Trial was not a Supreme Court case. A Tennessee substitute teacher, John Scopes, agreed to George Rappallea's (A Tennessee businessman who wanted attention for Tennessee) proposition for a trial. William Jennings Bryan, a christian man, hears about the trial and offers to be the state prosecuter, Charles Darrow, a famous attorney from Chicago, offered to be Scopes' lawyer. The Tennessee jury found Scopes guilty. The trial shows the division of society at the time(science vs. religion)
  • Buck vs. Bell

    Buck vs. Bell
    Carrie Buck was sent to a state mental institution. A Virginia law, during the time, allowed for the sexual sterilization of inmates of institutions to promote the "health of the patient and the welfare of society." A hearing was required to determine if the operation was a wise thing to do before the procedure could take place. The Supreme Court upholds Virginia sterilization law because they found that it did not violate the constitution.
  • Schechter vs. United States

    Schechter vs. United States
    This supreme court case said that Congress could not delegate legislative powers to the executive and that control of INTERstate commerce could not apply to INTRAstate commerce. This decision was designed to reduce FDR's increasing power in the United States government.
  • Smith vs. Allwright

    Smith vs. Allwright
    Lonnie Smith, a black voter in Texas, sued S. S. Allwright for the right to vote in a primary election being conducted by the Democratic Party. Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP agreed to argue for this case. Texas claimed that the Democratic Party was a private organization that could set its own rules of membership. Smith argued that the rule of having all primary voters be white, was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Smith.
  • Smith vs. Allwright 2

    Smith vs. Allwright 2
    This was a very important decision for the Supreme Court in regard to voting rights and, in extension, racial desegregation. It overturned the Democratic Party's use of all-white primaries in Texas, and other states that used the rule.
  • Korematsu vs. United States

    Korematsu vs. United States
    Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American, believed Executive Order 9066, the relocation of the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor, was unconstitutional and took away their rights. However, the Supreme Court, and FDR, believed that during times of war, this was a protective measure against espionage. Therefore, constitutionally accepted because it was protecting others. Korematsu lost in a 6 to 3 decision, the camps were upheld as constitutional.
  • Cramer vs. United States

    Cramer vs. United States
    Cramer was a German American charged with treason against the United States during WWII. He appealed to the Supreme Court, saying that the two Germans he was associated with, and about the only evidence against him, had been business associates and he had not been helping them. The Court decided 5 to 4 that Cramer did not meet the definition of treason in Article III of the Constitution. Cramer, walked away a free man.
  • Morgan vs. Virginia

    Morgan vs. Virginia
    In 1944, the 27-year-old Baltimore-born African-American Irene Morgan was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to give up her seat on an interstate Greyhound bus to a white person. This occured 11 years before Rosa Parks. The bus driver stopped and summoned the sheriff, who tried to arrest Morgan. In a 1946 landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Virginia's state law enforcing segregation on interstate buses was illegal.
  • Shelley v. Kraemer

    Shelley v. Kraemer
    The Shelley family tried to purchased a house in St. Louis, Missouri but they were unaware that a restrictive covenant had been in place on the property since 1911 in which no nigro family could own the property. Louis Kraemer sued to restrain the Shelleys from taking possession of the property they had purchased. The Supreme Courts decision outlawed restrictive housing covenants that forbade the sale or rental of property to minorities.
  • Rosenberg Trial

    Rosenberg Trial
    Julius and Ethel Rosenburg were accused of being communist spies trying to give the USSR plans on the atomic bomb. The Rosenbergs asserted their right under the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment to not incriminate themselves whenever asked about involvement in the Communist Party or with its members. The Rosenburgs were sentenced to death under the Espionage Act which prohibits transmitting or attempting to transmit to a foreign government information "relating to the national defense."
  • Dennis vs. United States

    Dennis vs. United States
    Truman's Justice Department prosecuted eleven top leaders of the American Communist party under the Smith Act of 1940, which outlawed ay conspiracy advocating the overthrow of the government. In 1951, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and jailing of the communists, despite the absence of any acts of violence or espionage, declaring that Congress could curtail freedom of speech if national security required such restrictions
  • Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka

    Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
    In the Plessy V. Ferguson case the Supreme Court upheld that the blacks were separate but equal. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka deals with a class action suit that was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka in 1951. The suit called for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation, and essentially ending the separate but equal notion. In 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka rejects this idea and outlaws segregation in public education.
  • Gideon vs. Wainwright

    Gideon vs. Wainwright
    In an unanimous decision, it was ruled that state courts are required, under the Sixth Amendment, to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendents who cannot afford one. This, along with Miranda vs. Arizona, began to give more rights to accused criminals.
  • Reynolds vs. Sims

    Reynolds vs. Sims
    Under the Fourteenth Amendment, this case declared all state legislative entities must be equal in size. This was a response to the changing American environment and a lesser emphasis on rural life, which was overrepresented in legislation. Chief Justice Warren stated "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests." This was a major ruling on a state issue.
  • Griswold vs. Conneticut

    Griswold vs. Conneticut
    The Supreme Court declared the unconstitutionality of a Conneticut law that outlawed all contraceptives, finding it a violation of marital privacy, and an inappropriate extension of the law. The case was brought to the Supreme Court after the conviction of the executive director of Planned Parenthood, Estelle Griswold. This court case established a valuable "right to privacy" and defined a boundary to the government's power. This also influenced the decisions in cases like Roe v. Wade.
  • Miranda vs. Arizona

    Miranda vs. Arizona
    Miranda was arrested kidnapping and rape of an 18-year-old woman. After interrogation by police officers, Miranda signed a confession to the rape charge but he was never read his rights and said that his confession was and not to be used against him in court but was convicted anyway. He appealed to the Supreme Court where it ruled that it is required for the police to advise a suspect of his or her constitutional right to remain silent and to have a counsel present during interrogation.
  • Roe vs. Wade

    Roe vs. Wade
    This Supreme Court case dealt with abortion. It was ruled that a woman had a "right to privacy" under the 14th amendment therefore it was her decision whether or not to have an abortion. For the safety of the fetus and woman, it depended on what trimester she was in, causing each state's law to differ.The fetal "right to life argument" was rejected. This case was, and still is, very controversial and is still questioned.
  • Buckley v. Valeo

    Buckley v. Valeo
    The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 created the first comprehensive effort by the federal government to regulate campaign contributions and spending. The Supreme Court upheld this federal law, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law. The court also ruled candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns.
  • Buckley v. Valeo

    Buckley v. Valeo
    The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 created the first comprehensive effort by the federal government to regulate campaign contributions and spending. The Supreme Court upheld this federal law, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law. The court also ruled candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns.
  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

    Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
    The "diversity in the classroom" justification for considering race as "one" of the factors in admissions policies was different from the original purpose stated by UC Davis Medical School, whose special admissions program under review was designed to ensure admissions of traditionally discriminated-against minorities. The Court held that while affirmative action systems are constitutional, a quota system based on race is unconstitutional.
  • Planned Parenthood vs. Casey

    Planned Parenthood vs. Casey
    In regards to an amendment of the preexisting abortion laws established in Roe v. Wade. A Pennsyslvania act which added provisions such as informed consent, a 24 hour waiting period before the procedure, and parental consent for minors was being challenged. In this 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade but ruled most of the Pennsylvania act constitutional as the stipulations did not add any "undue burdens". This case paved the way for further state regulations of abortion.
  • United States vs. Virginia

    United States vs. Virginia
    The Virginia Military Institute was Virginia's only exclusively male public undergraduate school. This case was brought under the justification that the school's male-only rule violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Virginia offered to add a seperate institute for women, but this was struck down in the court as it would not be equal. The court ruled that the male-only school was unconstitutional made VMI the last all-male public University in the US.This was a victory for women.