Digital History>Reference Room>Historically Significant Supreme Court Cases in American History

Historically Significant Supreme Court Cases in American History

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Case Hylton v. United States
Date 1796
Annotation For the first time the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of a Congressional act.
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Case Marbury v. Madison
Date 1803
Annotation For the first time, the Supreme Court declares an act of Congress unconstitutional, declaring, “A law repugnant to the Constitution is void.” The court does not strike down another federal law until the Dred Scott decision in 1857.
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Case Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
Date 1816
Annotation The Supreme Court asserts its right to review decisions of state courts.
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Case Dartmouth v. Woodward
Date 1819
Annotation The Supreme Court declares that a charter to a private corporation is a contract and that a state government cannot impair a contract by unilateral action.
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Case McCullough v. Maryland
Date 1819
Annotation The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States and endorses a loose interpretation of the constitution. “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist[ent] with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.”
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Case Gibbons v. Ogden
Date 1824
Annotation The Supreme Court invalidates a monopoly granted by New York State for the operation of steamboats on state waters on the grounds that it conflicts with congressional power under the Constitution’s commerce clause. The court establishes the principle that when federal and state laws conflict, federal law is supreme.
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Case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
Date 1831
Annotation The Supreme Court refuses to issue an injunction against the state of Georgia after it declares the laws of the Cherokee nation null and void. The court rules that it lacks jurisdiction because the Cherokee comprise a “domestic dependent” nation rather than a foreign state.
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Case Worcester v. Georgia
Date 1832
Annotation The Supreme Court declares a Georgia law requiring white residents in Cherokee territory to obtain a license from the governor unconstitutional since it conflicts with a federal treaty. President Andrew Jackson is reported to have said: “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”
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Case Barron v. Baltimore
Date 1833
Annotation The Supreme Court rules that the Bill of Rights was intended to protect individuals against infringement of their rights by federal government and that the guarantees were not binding upon state governments.
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Case Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge
Date 1837
Annotation The Charles River Bridge Company contended that under a charter granted by the Massachusetts legislature, it had a right to be free from competition. The Supreme Court rules that rights granted in a legislative charter should be construed narrowly and any ambiguity should be interpreted in the public interest.
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Case Amistad
Date 1841
Annotation The Supreme Court frees Africans, who had been enslaved in violation of Spanish law, and who had revolted while being transported in a Spanish ship while in Cuba, a Spanish colony.
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Case Prigg v. Pennsylvania
Date 1842
Annotation The Supreme Court invalidated Pennsylvania’s “personal liberty” law which forbid the seize and removal of fugitive slaves from the state. But the court also declared that state authorities were under no obligation to assist in the return of runaway slaves to their owners.
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Case License Cases
Date 1847
Annotation The Supreme Court upholds Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island laws restricting and taxing the sale of alcoholic beverages even though the tax impinges on interstate commerce.
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Case Luther v. Borden
Date 1849
Annotation In a case involving armed rebellion in Rhode Island, the court rules that Congress has the power to determine which is the lawful government in the state and that this decision cannot be reviewed by the courts.
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Case Passenger Cases
Date 1849
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court invalidates a head tax imposed by Massachusetts and New York on immigrants entering the states on the ground that the federal government had exclusive authority to regulate foreign commerce.
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Case Dred Scott v. Sandford
Date 1857
Annotation The Supreme Court rules that African Americans, slave or free, were not citizens of the United States and were not entitled to sue in federal court. It also rules that a slave’s residence in a free state or territory does not make him free upon his return to a slave state. It further rules that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional since a state could not deprive people of their property without due process of law.
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Case Abelman v. Booth
Date 1859
Annotation After the Wisconsin Supreme Court freed an abolitionist who had been convicted of violating the Fugitive Slave Act, the Supreme Court denies the right of state courts to interfere in federal cases.
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Case Ex Parte Merryman
Date 1861
Annotation After a Baltimore secessionist was arrested by military authorities, Chief justice Roger Taney issued a writ of habeas corpus, which was rejected by the military commander. Taney cited the commander for contempt and denied that the president had the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.
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Case Prize Cases
Date 1863
Annotation The Supreme Court upholds the legality of President Abraham Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, ruling that it was legal for the Union to seize neutral shipping.
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Case Ex Parte Vallandigham
Date 1864
Annotation After a civilian was arrested and tried by a military commission, the Supreme Court refused to review a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that it did not have the authority to review the proceedings of a military commission.
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Case Ex Parte Milligan
Date 1866
Annotation The Supreme Court declares military courts unconstitutional in areas where the civil courts are in operation. The majority opinion says that the Constitution applies “equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.”
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Case Ex Parte Garland
Date 1867
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court declares federal and state loyalty oaths, barring ex-Confederates from pursuing their occupations, unconstitutional, since they violate the Constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.
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Case Cummings v. Missouri
Date 1867
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court declares federal and state loyalty oaths, barring ex-Confederates from pursuing their occupations, unconstitutional, since they violate the Constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder.
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Case Veazie Bank v. Fenno
Date 1869
Annotation A majority of the court upholds a federal tax on state bank notes that was intended to eliminate state-chartered banks and promote a national banking system on the grounds that Congress had the power to provide for a sound currency.
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Case Collector v. Day
Date 1871
Annotation By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not tax the income of a state official. This decision was not overturned until 1939.
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Case Slaughterhouse Cases
Date 1873
Annotation In its first decision involving the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment applied only to federal, and not state, violations of the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens. It also held that the amendment’s equal protection clause applied only to state laws discriminating against African Americans.
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Case Munn v. Illinois
Date 1877
Annotation the court upholds an Illinois law setting maximum rates for grain storage, arguing that this represented a legitimate exercise of the state’s power to regulate businesses that involved the public interest.
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Case Strauder v. West Virginia
Date 1879
Annotation The court rules that the 14th Amendment prohibits states from excluding people from juries on account of race.
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Case Ex Parte Virginia
Date 1879
Annotation The court rules that the 14th Amendment prohibits states from excluding people from juries on account of race.
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Case Springer v. United States
Date 1881
Annotation The court upholds the federal income tax adopted during the Civil War.
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Case Civil Rights Cases
Date 1883
Annotation The Supreme Court strikes down the provisions of the 1875 Civil Rights Act that entitle all people to equal enjoyment of public accommodations and privileges on the ground that the 14th Amendment was intended to prevent wrongful acts by states and did not apply to the acts of individuals.
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Case Ex Parte Yarbrough
Date 1884
Annotation The Supreme Court holds Congress’ authority to make it illegal for individuals to interfere with the right of a citizen to vote in a federal election.
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Case Santa Clara Co. v. Southern Pacific R.R. Co.
Date 1886
Annotation The Supreme Court extends the protections of due process to corporations.
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Case Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific R.R. v. Illinois
Date 1886
Annotation The court strikes down an Illinois law regulating transportation contracts, ruling that it infringed on Congress’ exclusive control over interstate commerce.
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Case Yick Wo v. Hopkins
Date 1886
Annotation The Supreme Court invalidated a San Francisco ordinance that prohibited operating a laundry in a wooden building without the permission of the Board of Supervisors because the ordinance was administered in a manner that discriminated against Chinese immigrants. This was the first time that the court struck down a law that was not discriminatory on its face but which was applied in a discriminatory fashion.
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Case Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Louis R.R. v. Minnesota
Date 1890
Annotation The court invalidates a Minnesota law that establishes a commission to set rates for railroads and warehouses because it does not allow parties to appeal decisions to the courts.
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Case U.S. v. E.C. Knight Co.
Date 1895
Annotation In an 8-1 decision, the court rules that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act does not apply to manufacturers located within a single state.
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Case Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.
Date 1895
Annotation By a 6-2 vote, the court rules that a federal tax on income from municipal bonds was invalid, since a municipality was created by a state. At a rehearing, the court, by a 5-4 vote, rules that a federal income tax, established by the Wilson-Gorham Tariff Act of 1894, violated the Constitutional prohibition against direct taxes.
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Case In Re Debs
Date 1895
Annotation The Supreme Court denied a writ of habeas corpus to Eugene Debs, president of the American Railroad Union, after he was cited for contempt for violating an injunction against the Pullman Strike. The court ruled that the strike interfered with the federal responsibility to transport the mails and its authority over interstate commerce
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Case Plessy v. Ferguson
Date 1896
Annotation By a vote of 8-1, the court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring African Americans and whites to use separate railroad cars did not deprive African Americans of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. The ruling gives judicial sanction to the doctrine of “separate but equal.”
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Case U.S. v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association
Date 1897
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the court rules that an association of 18 railroads that set railroad rates violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
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Case Holden v. Hardy
Date 1898
Annotation By a 7-2 vote, the court upheld a Utah Law that set maximum work hours in mining, ruling that this was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police functions. This decision provided a precedent for later efforts by states to regulate working conditions.
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Case Smyth v. Ames
Date 1898
Annotation The court overturns a Nebraska act setting railroad rates, ruling that rates must be reasonable and provide companies with a fair return on their property.
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Case Williams v. Mississippi
Date 1898
Annotation The Supreme Court rules that literacy tests and poll taxes do not violate the 15th Amendment.
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Case De Lima v. Bidwell
Date 1901
Annotation By a 5-4 vote the court ruled that Puerto Rico was no longer a foreign nation after the Spanish-American War.
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Case Downes v. Bidwell
Date 1901
Annotation In a ruling involving the status of Puerto Rico, the court held that the Constitution and all the privileges of citizenship did not apply to the people of an annexed territory.
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Case Champion v. Ames
Date 1903
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the court upheld a federal law prohibiting the states from sending lottery tickets through the mails.
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Case Northern Securities Co. v. United States
Date 1904
Annotation Upheld a government suit against a railroad holding company, ruling that an illegal combination in restraint of interstate commerce violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
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Case Lochner v. New York
Date 1905
Annotation The Supreme Court struck down a state law setting a 10-hour day for bakery workers because it interfered with the protection of liberty guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. This decision barred states from interfering with an employee’s right to contract with an employer. In a dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “The 14th Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.”
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Case Swift v. United States
Date 1905
Annotation The court unanimously upheld the federal government’s prosecution of the “Beef Trust” under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
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Case Adair v. United States
Date 1908
Annotation By a 6-2 vote, the court struck down a provision of the 1898 Erdman Act that prohibited railroads from requiring workers to agree not to join a labor union.
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Case Loewe v. Lawler
Date 1908
Annotation The court unanimously ruled that a secondary boycott by a labor union was an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade and violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
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Case Muller v. Oregon
Date 1908
Annotation The court upheld an Oregon law setting maximum hours for women workers. The state’s attorney, Louis Brandeis, submitted the “Brandeis Brief,” which included statistical, sociological, and economic data as well as legal arguments.
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Case Standard Oil of N.J. v. United States
Date 1911
Annotation The Supreme Court ordered the breakup of the oil giant as a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. The court adopts the “rule of reason”—that a business combination was illegal only when it was engaged in unreasonable restraint of trade. The Court held that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act “should be construed in the light of reason, and as so construed, it prohibits all contracts and combinations which amount to an unreasonable or undue restraint of trade in interstate commerce.”
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Case Guinn v. United States
Date 1915
Annotation The court rules that grandfather clauses, exempting those who grandfathers could vote before the adoption of the 15th Amendment from poll taxes, literacy tests, or other voting restrictions, were unconstitutional.
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Case Arver v. United States
Date 1918
Annotation The court upheld the constitutionality of the World War I conscription act.
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Case Hamilton v. Kentucky Distilleries
Date 1919
Annotation The court upheld the wartime prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages as a legitimate exercise of the government’s war-making powers.
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Case Schenck v. United States
Date 1919
Annotation The court ruled unanimously that the World War I Espionage Act did not violate the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech and free press, ruling that anti-war pamphlets encouraged resistance to the military draft and establishing the “clear and present danger” test.
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Case Abrams v. United States
Date 1919
Annotation The court upheld the 1918 Sedition Act, ruling that pamphlets criticizing the U.S. intervention in Siberia were not protected by the 1st Amendment. In his dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
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Case Bailey v. Drexel Furniture
Date 1922
Annotation The court struck down a 1919 federal law that levied a prohibitive tax on products produced by child labor.
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Case Adkins v. Children's Hospital
Date 1923
Annotation The court struck down a Congressional act authorizing a Wage Board for the District of Columbia from setting minimum wages for women workers. In a dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: “The criterion of constitutionality is not whether we believe the law to be for the public good.”
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Case Gitlow v. New York
Date 1925
Annotation For the first time the Supreme Court declares that the 14th Amendment makes 1st Amendment freedoms of speech and the press applicable to the states.
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Case Near v. Minnesota
Date 1931
Annotation The Supreme Court ruled that “prior restraint” of the press violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. The court overturned a Minnesota law that prohibited continued publication of a newspaper that the court had deemed malicious, scandalous, and defamatory. This was the first time that the court struck down a state law for violating freedom of the press. “While reckless assaults upon public men…endeavoring faithfully to discharge official duties, exert a baleful influence and deserve the severest condemnation in public opinion,” said the court, “it cannot be said that this abuse is greater, and it is believed to be less, than that which characterized the period in which our institutions took shape.”
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Case Powell v. Alabama
Date 1932
Annotation The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American youths who had been convicted in the rape of two white women in a railroad freight car, on the ground that they had been denied due process because of the hostile community atmosphere in which the case was tried and trial judge’s failure to provide them with a defense attorney. For the first time, the court applies constitutional protections for a fair trial to the states.
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Case Nebbia v. New York
Date 1934
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that a state many regulate businesses in the public good, so long as the regulations were reasonable and effected through appropriate means.
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Case Schechter v. United States
Date 1935
Annotation The court unanimously invalidated the National Industrial Recovery Act on the grounds that it delegated excessive authority to the president and regulated businesses that operated wholly within individual states.
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Case Retirement Board v. Alton Railroad Co.
Date 1935
Annotation By a 5-4 vote the court struck down the Railroad Retirement Act which established pensions for railroad workers on the ground that it exceeded federal authority under the commerce clause.
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Case Patterson v. Alabama
Date 1935
Annotation In another case involving the Scottsboro Boys, the court rules that they had been denied a fair trial because African Americans had been excluded from the jury list.
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Case Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority
Date 1936
Annotation The court upheld a law establishing the TVA as a legitimate exercise of the federal government’s power to control navigable streams and provide for the national defense.
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Case West Coast Hotel v. Parrish
Date 1937
Annotation “The switch in time that saves nine.” In the face of President Franklin Roosevelt’s proposal to expand the court’s membership, the court upheld a series of New Deal measures. By a 5-4 vote in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parris, the court upheld a Washington State minimum wage law, reversing its decision in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923).
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Case NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin
Date 1937
Annotation By 5-4 votes, the court, upheld the National Labor Relations Act in NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel and NLRB v. Friedman-Harry Marks Clothing Co.
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Case NLRB v. Friedman- Harry Marks Clothing Co.
Date 1937
Annotation By 5-4 votes, the court, upheld the National Labor Relations Act in NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel and NLRB v. Friedman-Harry Marks Clothing Co.
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Case Steward Machine Co. v. Davis
Date 1937
Annotation By 5-4 votes in Steward Machine Co. v. Davis and Helvering v. Davis, the court upheld the Social Security laws.
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Case Helvering v. Davis
Date 1937
Annotation By 5-4 votes in Steward Machine Co. v. Davis and Helvering v. Davis, the court upheld the Social Security laws.
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Case DeJonge v. Oregon
Date 1937
Annotation The court overturned the conviction under Oregon’s criminal syndicalist law, ruling that a speech presented in an orderly meeting did not constitute a “clear and present danger.”
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Case Herndon v. Lowery
Date 1937
Annotation The court reversed the conviction of a Communist organizer in Georgia for inciting insurrection.
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Case Lovell v. Griffin
Date 1938
Annotation The court upheld the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to distribute religious literature without a license.
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Case Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
Date 1938
Annotation The court ruled that an African American had a right to be admitted to the state law school, since the state’s alternative—paying for black students to attend law school in another state—was not equal.
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Case United States v. Carolene Products
Date 1938
Annotation . In a footnote, Jusice Haran Fiske Stone said that the Supreme Court would give a higher level of constitutional protection to individual rights than to property rights. The footnote also says that the Surpeme Court will give a “presumption of constitutionality” to cases involving the powers of Congress and the states to regulate commerce.
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Case Hague v. C.I.O.
Date 1939
Annotation The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment prohibited states from interfering with peaceful assemblies. In this case, Jersey City, N.J.’s mayor “Boss” Hague had prevented the CIO from assembling in public forums.
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Case Graves v. New York ex. rel. O’ Keefe
Date 1939
Annotation The court ruled that a state tax on federal employees did not place an unconstitutional burden on the federal government.
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Case Thornhill v. Alabama
Date 1940
Annotation The court rules that the 14th Amendment prohibited states from interfering with peaceful picketing.
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Case Minersville School District v. Gobitis
Date 1940
Annotation By an 8-1 vote, the court upheld the expulsion of two Jehovah’s Witnesses, 12 year old Lillian Gobitis and her younger brother William, from school for refusing to salute the flag. At the time, 16 states had laws requiring students to salute the flag. In a dissent, Harlan Stone wrote that it was wrong to force citizens to say things they do not believe and that are forbidden by their religion.
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Case Edwards v. California
Date 1941
Annotation . The court struck down a California “Anti-Okie” law designed to exclude indigent immigrants as an unconstitutional barrier to interstate commerce.
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Case Korematsu v. United States
Date 1943
Annotation By a 6-3 vote, the court upheld the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans. In Ex parte Endo, the court held that the government could not detain a person whose loyalty had been established.
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Case West Virginia State School Board v. Barnette
Date 1943
Annotation By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, and struck down state laws requiring students to salute the American flag. In a decision issued on Flag Day, Robert H. Jackson wrote that Americans could not be forced to demonstrate their allegiance to “what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion” and that this was true for the young as well as adults. “The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials.”
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Case Smith v. Allwright
Date 1944
Annotation The Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that restricted participation in the Democratic primary elections to whites on the ground that primaries are central to the elector process.
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Case Morgan v. Virginia
Date 1946
Annotation The court prohibited buses engaged in interstate bus service from segregating passengers.
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Case Hannegan v. Esquire
Date 1946
Annotation The court restricted the Postmaster General’s authority to withhold mailing privileges for allegedly “offensive” materials.
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Case Everson v. Board of Education
Date 1947
Annotation : In a decision upholding school boards’ reimbursement of the cost of public transportation for students attending parochial schools, Justice Hugo Black declares: “In the words of Jefferson, the [1st Amendment]…was intended to erect a ‘wall of separation between church and State.’”
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Case Illinois ex. rel. McCollum v. Board of Education
Date 1948
Annotation The court ruled that an Illinois law permitting students to receive religion instruction on school property during school hours using private teachers was unconstitutional.
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Case Shelley v. Kraemer
Date 1948
Annotation The court struck down restriction covenants that prohibited the sale of real estate to people of Asian and African descent as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.
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Case Communications Association v. Douds
Date 1950
Annotation The court upheld a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 requiring labor union officials to sign an affidavit that they were not Communists.
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Case McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents
Date 1950
Annotation The court invalidated a Oklahoma law that required African American students to sit in designated areas in university classrooms, libraries, and cafeterias.
URL Web site
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Case Sweatt v. Painter
Date 1950
Annotation The Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that restricted the University of Texas to white students only, even though the state had set up a separate law school for African American students.
URL Web site
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Case Dennis et al. v. United States
Date 1951
Annotation The court upheld the Smith Act of 1946 that made it a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the government.
URL Web site
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Case Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer
Date 1952
Annotation The court ruled 6-2 that President Harry Truman exceeded his authority when he seized major steel companies to avoid a strike that would have disrupted steel production during the Korean war.
URL Web site
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Case Rochin v. California
Date 1952
Annotation The court reverses the conviction of a man whose stomach had been forcibly pumped for drugs on the ground that the Constitution’s due process clause bars “conduct that shocks the conscience.”
URL Web site
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Case Burstyn v. Wilson Artistic
Date 1952
Annotation The court extends 1st Amendment protections to movies, overturning a 1915 ruling that movies “are a business, pure and simple.” The court holds that New York State’s denial of a license to the film “The Miracle” on the grounds of sacrilege violated the 1st Amendment.
URL Web site
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Case Brown v. Board of Education
Date 1954
Annotation The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, overturning the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that allowed for “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites. A unanimous court held that segregation stamped a badge of inferiority on military children and hindered their development no matter how equal the facilities. “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Linda Brown was denied admission to a school simply because she was African American. She had to walk a mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her all-black elementary school., even though there was a school just seven blocks from her home.
URL Web site
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Case Pennsylvania v. Nelson
Date 1956
Annotation The court invalidated a Pennsylvania law punishing subversive activities on the grounds that this power was reserved to the federal government.
URL Web site
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Case Watkins v. United States
Date 1957
Annotation The court reversed the contempt conviction of a labor union official who refused to provide the names of individuals who had been members of the Communist party, holding that the question was not relevant to the committee’s work.
URL Web site
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Case Yates v. United States
Date 1957
Annotation The court ruled that the Smith Act of 1946 did not forbid individuals from advocating the violent overthrow of the government; it only prevent actions to achieve that aim.
URL Web site
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Case Roth v. United States
Date 1957
Annotation The court ruled that in order to be deemed obscene, a work had to be “utterly without redeeming social value.”
URL Web site
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Case Kent v. Dulles
Date 1958
Annotation Ruling that the right to travel is protected by the 5th Amendment’s due process clause, the court rules that the State Department could not refuse to issue a passport to artist Rockwell Kent for refusing to sign an anti-communist affidavit.
URL Web site
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Case Boyton v. Virginia
Date 1960
Annotation The court ruled that a bus terminal may not segregate passengers who are traveling across interstate lines.
URL Web site
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Case Mapp v. Ohio
Date 1961
Annotation The court ruled that evidence obtained by unreasonable search and seizures must be excluded from trial.
URL Web site
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Case Baker v. Carr
Date 1962
Annotation The court ruled 6-2 that voters had a right to challenge the apportionment of state legislative districts in ways that overrepresented rural districts and diluted the voting power of urban voters
URL Web site
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Case Engel v. Vitale
Date 1962
Annotation The court forbids non-denominational prayer in public schools, ruling that the Constitution prohibits government from “endorsing religion in general.” The court ruled that a prayer read in New York State schools violated the constitutional separation of church and state. “It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers to be recited as a part of a religious program carried on by government.”
URL Web site
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Case School District of Abington Township v. Schempp
Date 1963
Annotation The court prohibited daily Bible readings and the reading of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools.
URL Web site
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Case Gideon v. Wainwright
Date 1963
Annotation In a case involving a barely literate Florida man, Clarence Gideon, who was accused of breaking into a pool hall, the court ruled that indigent criminal defendants have a right to legal counsel at taxpayers’ expense.
URL Web site
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Case New York Times v. Sullivan
Date 1964
Annotation When a white segregationist officials in the South tried to silence newspapers through huge libel suits, the Supreme Court ruled that public figures have a higher burden of proof in a libel case than private citizens, and must prove that a libelous statement is published with malicious intent and in reckless disregard for the truth. “Debate on public issues,” wrote Justice William J. Brennan, “ should be uninhibited, robust, wide-open, and …may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
URL Web site
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Case Escobedo v. Illinois
Date 1964
Annotation The court throws out the confession of a man whose requests to have his attorney present during police interrogation were denied.
URL Web site
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Case Griswold v. Connecticut
Date 1965
Annotation Holding that a right to privacy is implicit in the Constitution, the Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, struck down a state law that prohibited the use of birth control by married couples.
URL Web site
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Case Sheppard v. Maxwell
Date 1966
Annotation The court reversed the murder conviction of Dr. Sam Sheppard on the grounds that massive publicity had deprived him of the right to a fair trial.
URL Web site
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Case Miranda v. Arizona
Date 1966
Annotation By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that truck driver Ernesto Miranda, who confessed to abducting and raping an 18-year-old girl, should have been informed by the police of his right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney.
URL Web site
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Case In Re Gault
Date 1967
Annotation By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles have the same rights to a fair trial as adults. 15-year-old Gerald Gault was accused of making an obscene phone call to a female neighbor and was sentenced to a reform school for up to six years. Under Arizona’s juvenile code, he had been denied notice of the charges against him, the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the privilege against self-incrimination.
URL Web site
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Case Loving v. Virginia
Date 1967
Annotation The court struck down a Virginia law prohibiting interracial marriages as a violation of the 14th Amendment.
URL Web site
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Case Shapiro v. Thompson
Date 1969
Annotation The court struck down state laws that required individuals to reside in a state for a year in order to receive welfare benefits, ruling that this violated the right to interstate travel.
URL Web site
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Case Tinker v. Des Moines
Date 1969
Annotation The court overturned the suspension of students who had worn black arm bands to protest the Vietnam war, declaring that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
URL Web site
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Case Williams v. Florida
Date 1970
Annotation The court held that states could use 6-person juries in cases that did not involve capital punishment.
URL Web site
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Case Griggs v. Duke Power
Date 1971
Annotation The court ruled that unnecessary barriers to employment must be removed if they are unrelated to job skills and have a discriminatory impact. This decision upheld the use of statistics as a way of demonstrating discrimination.
URL Web site
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Case Lemon v. Kurtzman
Date 1971
Annotation The court states that in determining whether a law violates the Constitutional separation of church and state, a law must have a secular purpose, it must not promote or retard religious beliefs, and it must avoid “excessive entanglements” with religion.
URL Web site
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Case New York Times v. United States
Date 1971
Annotation By a 6-3 vote the court denied the government’s request for a court order barring publication of a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War. The court said there was insufficient evidence to support a prior restraint on the press.
URL Web site
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Case Furman v. Georgia
Date 1972
Annotation The Supreme Court struck down death penalty laws that gave juries excessive discretion, allowing the death penalty to be arbitrarily and capriciously. It later struck down capital punishment laws that gave jurors no discretion or that barred jurors from considering mitigating facts about the murderer.
URL Web site
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Case Johnson v. Louisiana
Date 1972
Annotation The court ruled that the constitution did not require unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.
URL Web site
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Case Apodaca v. Oregon
Date 1972
Annotation The court ruled that the constitution did not require unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.
URL Web site
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Case Eisenstadt v. Baird
Date 1972
Annotation The court rules that laws prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried adults violates the Constitution’s equal protection
URL Web site
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Case Roe v. Wade
Date 1973
Annotation The Supreme Court invalidated a Texas law prohibiting abortion except to save a mother’s life. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that the 14th Amendment “protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.”
URL Web site
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Case Doe v. Bolton
Date 1973
Annotation By a vote of 7-2, the Court invalidated provisions of a Georgia law that required that abortion be performed in a hospital; a woman secure the approval of three physicians and a hospital committee before obtaining an abortion; and a woman seeking to obtain an abortion be a resident of the state.
URL Web site
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Case United States v. Nixon
Date 1974
Annotation The court orders President Richard Nixon to turn over to a special prosecutor subpoenaed tapes relating to the Watergate break-in.
URL Web site
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Case Milliken v. Bradley
Date 1974
Annotation . By a 5-4 vote, the court struck down a district court order that required the busing of African American schoolchildren in Detroit to the city’s suburbs on the grounds that there was no proof that the suburbs had engaged in intentional segregation.
URL Web site
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Case O'Connor v. Donaldson
Date 1975
Annotation The court rules that mental illness could not justify a non-violent person’s indefinite, involuntary confinement.
URL Web site
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Case Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth
Date 1976
Annotation By a vote of 6-3, the Court invalidated provisions of a Missouri statute that required a married woman to obtain the consent of her husband prior to obtaining an abortion; required a physician to preserve the life and health of the fetus at every stage of pregnancy; and prohibited the use of saline amniocentesis as a method of abortion. By a vote of 5-4, the Court struck down a requirement that an unmarried minor woman obtain the written consent of one parent before obtaining an abortion because the statute provided no alternative to parental consent such as judicial waiver of the consent requirement.
URL Web site
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Case Carey v. Population Services
Date 1977
Annotation By a vote of 7-2, the Court invalidated a New York law prohibiting the sale or distribution of contraceptives to minors.
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Case Coker v. Georgia
Date 1977
Annotation The Supreme Court forbade the death penalty for rape, ruling that the punishment was disproportionate to the crime.
URL Web site
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Case Plyler v. Doe
Date 1982
Annotation The court ruled that states may not deny public education to the children of illegal immigrants.
URL Web site
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Case Hustler Magazine v. Falwell
Date 1982
Annotation The court extended 1st Amendment protections of free speech and free press to parodies and satires.
URL Web site
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Case Bowers v. Hardwick
Date 1986
Annotation The court upholds the states’ authority to regulate homosexual relations in private between consenting adults.
URL Web site
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Case Texas v. Johnson
Date 1989
Annotation The court ruled invalidated a Texas law that prohibited desecration of the flag on the ground that it was an unconstitutional restriction of expressive conduct.
URL Web site
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Case R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota
Date 1992
Annotation A unanimous court strikes down a local law banning the display of any symbol “that arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender."
URL Web site
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Case Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Date 1992
Annotation The court reaffirms its “central holding” in Roe v. Wade, that abortions prior to viability cannot be made criminal offenses.
URL Web site
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Case Lee v. Weisman
Date 1992
Annotation The court rules that an officially-sanctioned prayer at a public school graduation violates the Constitution.
URL Web site
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Case Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Date 1992
Annotation By a vote of 7-2, the Court upheld provisions of a Pennsylvania statute that required (1) physicians to provide patients with anti-abortion information, including pictures of fetuses at various stages of development, to discourage women from obtaining abortions; (2) a mandatory 24-hour delay following these lectures; (3) the filing of reports, available for public inspection and copying, including the name and location of any facility performing abortions that receives any state funds; and (4) a one-parent consent requirement for minors with a judicial bypass.
URL Web site
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Case Stenberg v. Carhart
Date 2000
Annotation By a vote of 5-4, the Court invalidated a Nebraska law that prohibited so-called "partial birth" abortion unless the procedure is necessary to save the life of the woman, in part because it lacked any exception to protect women's health
URL Web site
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