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Key Supreme Court Cases

By LMW60
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    John Jay

    John Jay is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
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    John Rutledge

    John Rutledge is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
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    Oliver Ellsworth

    Oliver Ellsworth is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
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    John Marshall

    John Marshall is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Marbury v. Madison

    Marbury v. Madison
    This landmark case determined that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review, the power to review and determine the constitutionality of laws, treaties, bills, etc. This began when William Marbury (pictured) was appointed as a justice in the last few days of the Adams presidency; this appointment was never actually finalized, leading to the question of if Marbury and some others that were appointed last minute were entitled to their jobs. The Court later determinesdthat they were.
  • Fletcher v. Peck

    Fletcher v. Peck
    This case saw the first time a state law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The court unanimously ruled that a land grant was a valid contract and could not be repealed even in cases of corruption; i.e., a Georgia state law could not revoke a corrupt land sale.
  • McCulloch v. Maryland

    McCulloch v. Maryland
    In 1816, the Second National Bank was formed by Congress. Two years later, Maryland imposed taxes on the bank, and James W. McCulloch (pictured), a cashier of the Baltimore branch of the bank refused to pay them. He went to Court with the allegation that the taxes were illegal. The Court ruled that Congress had the authority to create the Bank, as it has certain implied powers, and Maryland could not tax it as it was formed by the national government.
  • Dartmouth College v. Woodward

    Dartmouth College v. Woodward
    Chief Justice John Marshall strengthened the power of the federal government during the "Era of Good Feelings" under President James Monroe. In this case, he ruled that once a state had chartered a business or college, it surrendered its power to alter and/or charter it and its authority to regulate it.
  • Gibbons v. Ogden

    Gibbons v. Ogden
    After a scuffle over the legality of a New York steamboat monopoly, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce applied to navigation; thus, Congress succeeded New York’s authority to license the monopoly.
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

    Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
    Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokees were not a sovereign nation within Georgia. They were, however, a refuge within the United States. He mandated that they had a claim to their land in Georgia because of their sustained tenure on the land.
  • Worcester v. Georgia

    Worcester v. Georgia
    The Supreme Court added to the decision it had made in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia by ruling that the Cherokees living in Georgia had federal protection over the state’s desire to take their territory. This ruling—and the one before it— was ignored by President Andrew Jackson and the state of Georgia.
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    Roger B. Taney

    Roger B. Taney is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Prigg v. Pennsylvania

    Prigg v. Pennsylvania
    A victory for abolitionists, this Supreme Court decision was that federal officials (not state) have the authority to apprehand fugitive slaves.
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford

    Dred Scott v. Sandford
    Dred Scott (pictured), a slave, argued that when he was taken to Illinois and Wisconsin, both free states, from Missouri, a slave state, he had gained his freedom. The Supreme Court determined that he was still a slave and belonged to his master as slaves, considered property, could not be taken away without due process. The Court also claimed that the Constitution did not provide rights for slaves.
  • Ex parte Merryman (Federal Case)

    Ex parte Merryman (Federal Case)
    During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writs of habeas corpus, starting in Maryland. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pictured) reviewed Lincoln's actions and found them unconstitutional. Lincoln, however, ignored this ruling, feeling that suspension of habeas corpus during wartime/rebellion was justified.
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    Salmon P. Chase

    Salmon P. Chase is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Ex parte Milligan

    Ex parte Milligan
    This Supreme Court case ruled President’s decision to try cases in military courts during the Civil War unconstitutional. Lincoln had done this to speed up the trial process, though his policy was criticized for violating civil liberties. (The decision came after the Civil War, however, it stilled addressed military-court trials.)
  • 1870s' 14th and 15th Amendment Cases

    1870s' 14th and 15th Amendment Cases
    The following are examples of the Supreme Court in the 1870s restricting the power of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments: (1) the Slaughter-House cases (1873): ruled that the Fifteenth Amendment applied only to the federal gov't, not the state gov't; (2) U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876) strengthened the previous decision; (3) U.S. v. Reese (1876) the court cleared the way for grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, property requirements, etc. These all made life worse for Southern blacks.
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    Morrison Waite

    Morrison Waite is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Munn v. Illinois

    Munn v. Illinois
    The case proved to be a major victory to the Farmer's Alliance (pictured); facing the claim that state-imposed railroad rates were unconstitutional, a position held by farmers, the Court ruled that the state of Illinois was protected in setting laws that set maximum rates for railroads.
  • Reynolds v. United States

    Reynolds v. United States
    Mormon Americans under the leadership of Brigham Young (pictured) claimed that the United States' laws outlawing polygamy violated the Mormons' First Amendment freedom of religion because polygamy was part of their religious practice. The Supreme Court determined that polygamy was ultimately unlawful because the First Amendment does not protect religious practices. Mormons were therefore forced to end polygamy in 1890 before later applying for statehood, establishing Utah as a state.
  • Civil Rights Cases

    Civil Rights Cases
    In a series of five related cases, the Supreme Court ripped apart the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the Fourteenth Amendment; the Court ruled that the Act was unconstitutional because private acts of racial discrimination were not prohibited by law (i.e. it was okay for private companies to infringe upon the rights of African Americans specifically).
  • Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co.

    Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co.
    The Supreme Court ruled the 1894 Wilson-Gorman tariff unconstitutional. The act imposed a direct percent tax on all income over $4,000. Cheif Justice Melville Fuller (pictured) explained that this was illegal because the federal government could not impose such a direct tax on personal property if it was not apportioned according to the population of each state.
  • Wabash v. Illinois

    Wabash v. Illinois
    This loss for the Farmer's Alliance came almost ten years after Munn v. Illinois; this case effectively diminished the farmers' previous victory. The Supreme Court determined that it was illegal for the state of Illinois to put a cap on railroad rates, as that was up to the company. They cite that it is not in Illinois' authority to "control interstate commerce" as railroads ran through multiple states.
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    Melville Fuller

    Melville Fuller is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • United States v. E.C. Knight

    United States v. E.C. Knight
    The American Sugar Refining company controlled 98% of sugar manufacturing by taking over E.C. Knight and other smaller companies. This elimated competition in this market and formed a monopoly. The Court's decision stated that the Sherman Anti-Trust, established with an aim to end such monopolies, does not enable Congress to regulate the manufacturing of a good, solely the distribution and trade of it.
  • Plessy v. Furguson

    Plessy v. Furguson
    This case is easily linked to the "separate but equal" mentality as well as Jim Crow (segregation) laws. Homer Plessy sat in the "whites only" section of a train car in Louisiana and refused to move to a section designated for blacks. The question of this Louisiana law's constitutionality was brought to the Supreme Court who determined that the law was legal; segregation was completely legal so long as each separate facility was equal.
  • Lochner v. New York

    Lochner v. New York
    Highlighting that even in an era of reform, the Supreme Court still generally held that worker protection laws violated the due-process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, this case saw a major loss for workers. In it, the Court ruled that a New York law mandating a ten-hour workday for male bakers was unconstitutional, as the state did not have the power to set maximum labor hours. This came after Joseph Locher (pictured) was fined under the law for overworking an employee.
  • Loewe v. Lawlor

    Loewe v. Lawlor
    Also known as the Danbury Hatters Case, this event began in 1902. Hat manufacturer Dietrich Loewe refused to recognize the hatters’ union, leading many of his workers to strike. Lowe soon began a lawsuit, and after six years, the Supreme Court ruled that boycotts in support of strikes were a “conspiracy in restraint of trade” and thus a violation of the Sherman Act.
  • Muller v. Oregon

    Muller v. Oregon
    The Supreme Court upheld an Oregon law limiting female laundry workers to a ten-hour workday. Louis Brandeis (pictured), a Boston attorney, cited legal precedent and offered economic, medical, and sociological evidence documenting the ways long hours harmed female workers. This case is a significant change from other cases during the era, which usually all ended with a worker's loss. This also marks one of the first times scientific evidence was stressed in a Supreme Court case.
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    Edward Douglass White

    Edward Douglass White is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Hammer v. Dagenhart

    Hammer v. Dagenhart
    In 1916, President Wilson enacted important worker protection laws; one of which was the Keating-Owen Act. This act prohibited the shipment of interstate commerce products manufactured by child labor. This act's constitutionality was challenged, and the Supreme Court repealed the act in 1918, explaining that production was not commerce and therefore could not be regulated by Congress. Furthermore, production regulation was reserved under the Tenth Amendment for individual states
  • Schenck v. United States

    Schenck v. United States
    During America's involvement in WWI, Charles Schenck (pictured), a socialist, urged U.S. citizens not to submit to the draft and become soldiers. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act, and the question of whether Schenck's free speech was violated by this or not reached the Supreme Court; in a unanimous decision, all Supreme Court Justices agreed that Schenck was not protected by the Constitution because during wartime specifically, certain utterances become illegal.
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    William Howard Taft

    William Howard Taft is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Ozawa v. United States

    Ozawa v. United States
    Throughout "the Roaring Twenties," Supreme Court rulings sent out a racist message. In 1923, the Court upheld laws limiting Japanese immigrants' right to own or lease farmland; furthermore, in this case, the Supreme Court denied citizenship to a Japanese-born university student named Takao Ozawa (pictured). Specifically, the Court determined that the Japanese were not white and could not become naturalized citizens.
  • Buck v. Bell

    Buck v. Bell
    During the Progressive Era, US eugenicists were successful in passing legislation that legalized the sterilization of criminals, sex offenders, and persons judged mentally deficient. Over seven years after the progressive movement died down, the Supreme Court upheld such legislation in this case after Carrie Buck (pictured), a woman who was forcefully sterilized, challenged the constitutionality of these laws.
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    Charles Evans Hughes

    Charles Evans Hughes is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Schechter v. United States

    Schechter v. United States
    During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the Supreme Court ruled the National Reconstruction Agency (NRA) unconstitutional on two main grounds: first, it gave the president regulatory power reserved for Congress, and second, the NRA (its codes specifically) regulated commerce inside of states, but federal regulation was to be for interstate commerce only.
  • United States v. Butler

    United States v. Butler
    The constitutionality of the New Deal's Agricultural Adjustment Act was questioned, as the AAA's processing tax on farm commodities was not clearly constitutional. Thus, the Supreme Court analyzed the situation and decided that the AAA was not constitutional because it tried to regulate agricultural production— something that was reserved for states.
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    Harlan F. Stone

    Harlan F. Stone is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Smith v. Allwright

    Smith v. Allwright
    In this case, The Supreme Court decided that a Texas primary had violated the Fifteenth Amendment by not allowing blacks to vote. This progressive decision helped the NAACP's campaign for voting rights for African Americans gain momentum.
  • Korematsu v. United States

    Korematsu v. United States
    Fred Korematsu (pictured), a Japanese American, refused to comply with Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans to relocate to internment camps on the West Coast. Challenging this order's constitutionality, Korematsu argued that the Bill of Rights ensured that no American would be forced to relocate without due process. The Supreme Court, however, affirmed that it would not question gov't claims of military necessity, which was (officially) why the order was issued.
  • Morgan v. Virginia

    Morgan v. Virginia
    Part of the state of Virginia's code was segregation on interstate and intrastate motor carriers. The constitutionality of this provision was questioned after Irene Morgan (pictured) refused to abide by the segregational state law. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP argued this position in court, leading to the Supreme Court declaring segregation in interstate bus transport unconstitutional.
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    Fred M. Vinson

    Fred M. Vinson is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Shelley v. Kraemer

    Shelley v. Kraemer
    This Supreme Case, from Harry S. Truman's presidency, outlawed restrictive housing covenants that forbade the sale or rental of properties to minorities.
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    Earl Warren

    Earl Warren is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

    Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
    This case, ruled by the Warren Court, overruled the doctrine of "separate but equal," which was established through the case Plessy v. Ferguson. Many southern politicians were angered by the decision, and over 100 members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto, denouncing the decision. President Eisenhower never publicly endorsed the Supreme Court's decision.
  • Engel v. Vitale

    Engel v. Vitale
    The Supreme Court banned organized prayer in public schools for violating the First Amendment. This decision was especially attacked by Christian evangelicals who advocated homeschooling and private Christian schools.
  • Gideon vs Wainwright

    Gideon vs Wainwright
    This court, under the liberal Cheif Justice Warren, furthered the rights of the accused. It stated that in serioud criminal court cases, the defendant has the right to counsel even if he/she may not be able to afford it.
  • New York Times vs Sullivan

    New York Times vs Sullivan
    A key court case that supported the Freedom of Press which lead to the "actual malice standard." This standard requires that the plaintiff in a defamation or libel case prove that the publisher of the statement in question knew that the statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of its truth. This decision gave freedom to the press to publish about the happenings of the south without the fear of a defamation (Sullivan was Montgomery Public Safety commissioner)
  • Miranda v. Arizona

    Miranda v. Arizona
    The liberal Warren Court supported expanding the rights of accused criminals-- and individual rights overall. In this case, the court ruled that police are required to advise suspects of their "Miranda Rights," including the right to remain silent.
  • Katz v United States

    Katz v United States
    This Supreme Court case discussed the nature of "the right to privacy" and the legal definition of a "search." The ruling refined interpretations of the unreasonable search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment to count immaterial intrusion with technology as a search. The ruling also extended Fourth Amendment protection to all areas where someone has a "reasonable expectation of privacy."
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    Warren E. Burger

    Warren E. Burger is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education

    Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education
    Upholding "forced" bussing, the Supreme Court ruled that a school district has broad powers to combat de facto segregation in schools.
  • New York Times Co. v. United States

    New York Times Co. v. United States
    Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst, gave the press the Pentagon Papers, a secret chronicle of US involvement in Vietnam. While Nixon was not mentioned in the papers, he feared letting them stay published would undermine the government's authority and establish a precedent for publishing classified materials; thus, he sought to bar their publication. The Supreme Court, when faced with deciding their publication's constitutionality, ruled the publication legal.
  • Roe v. Wade

    Roe v. Wade
    After a Texas law prohibited a woman, Roe, from having an abortion, she challenged the constitutionality of that Texas state law. After reviewing it, the Supreme Court declared all state laws infringing on women's abortion rights unconstitutional. Affirming abortion rights was one of the goals of the 1970s' feminist movement.
  • United States v. Nixon

    United States v. Nixon
    Richard Nixon asserted that he did not have to turn over the White House tapes during the Watergate Scandal, citing the power of executive privilege (the right of the president to withhold information when doing so would protect national security). The Supreme Court, however, denied Nixon the power to keep the tapes and ordered him to hand them over to the investigation.
  • University of California v. Bakke

    University of California v. Bakke
    The Supreme Court upheld affirmative action. In the same decision, though, it also ruled that racial quotas were unconstitutional, but universities may still consider race as an admission factor.
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    William Rehnquist

    William Rehnquist is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey

    Planned Parenthood v. Casey
    The Supreme Court upheld a Pennsylvania law restricting abortion provisions.
  • Bush v. Gore

    Bush v. Gore
    The Supreme Court asserted that the state of Florida in the election of 2000 went to Bush. With an electoral majority, Bush won the election and became president.