List of landmark court decisions in the United States
The following is a partial list of landmark court decisions in the United States. Landmark decisions establish a significant new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way:
- distinguishing a new principle that refines a prior principle, thus departing from prior practice without violating the rule of stare decisis;
- establishing a “test” or a measurable standard that can be applied by courts in future decisions.
In the United States, landmark court decisions come most frequently from the Supreme Court. United States courts of appeals may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case or if it adopts the holding of the lower court. Although many cases from state supreme courts are significant in developing the law of that state, only a few are so revolutionary that they announce standards that many other state courts then choose to follow.
- 1 Individual rights
- 2 Criminal law
- 3 Federalism
- 4 First Amendment rights
- 5 Second Amendment rights
- 6 Other areas
- 7 References
Discrimination based on race
- Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) People of African descent that are slaves or were slaves and subsequently freed, along with their descendants, cannot be United States citizens. Consequently, they cannot sue in federal court. Also, slavery cannot be outlawed in the western territories before they access statehood. After the Civil War, this decision was voided by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
- Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) Neither the Thirteenth nor the Fourteenth Amendment empower Congress to safeguard blacks against the actions of private individuals.
- Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) Segregated facilities for blacks and whites are constitutional under the doctrine of separate but equal, which holds for close to 60 years. (Overruled by Brown v. Board of Education (1954))
- Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 is constitutional; therefore, American citizens of Japanese descent can be interned and deprived of their basic constitutional rights. This case featured the first application of strict scrutiny to racial discrimination by the government.
- Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) Primary elections must be open to voters of all races.
- Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946) Virginia's state law enforcing segregation on interstate buses is unconstitutional.
- Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948) Courts may not enforce racial covenants on real estate.
- Henderson v. United States, 339 U.S. 816 (1950) The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 makes it unlawful for a railroad that engages in interstate commerce to subject any particular person to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatsoever.
- Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) Segregated schools in the states are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that the separate but equal doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) "has no place in the field of public education."
- Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954) Segregated schools in the District of Columbia violate the Fifth Amendment. This case is the companion case to Brown.
- Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) According to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the non-discrimination portion of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 bans the segregation of black passengers on buses traveling across state lines. The Supreme Court adopted and expanded this decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960).
- Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (M.D. Ala. 1956) Bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
- Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) Racial segregation in all forms of public transportation is illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.
- Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157 (1961) Peaceful sit-in demonstrators protesting segregationist policies cannot be arrested under a state's "disturbing the peace" laws.
- Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) Laws that prohibit interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation laws) are unconstitutional.
- Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968) The federal government may prohibit discrimination in housing by private parties under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971) The busing of students to promote racial integration in public schools is constitutional.
- Gates v. Collier, 501 F. 2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1974) This decision brought an end to the trustee system and flagrant inmate abuse at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. It was the first body of law developed in the Fifth Circuit that held that a variety of forms of corporal punishment against prisoners is considered cruel and unusual punishment and that abolished racial segregation in prisons.
- Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) Race-based set-asides in educational opportunities violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision leaves the door open for some use of race in admission decisions.
- Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995) Race-based discrimination, including discrimination in favor of minorities (affirmative action), must pass strict scrutiny.
- Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) A narrowly-tailored use of race in student admission decisions may be permissible under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because a diverse student body is beneficial to all students. This was hinted at in Regents v. Bakke (1978).
Discrimination based on sex
- Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) Oregon's restrictions on the working hours of women are constitutional.
- Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971) An employer may not, in the absence of business necessity, refuse to hire women with preschool-age children while hiring men with such children.
- Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971) Administrators of estates cannot be named in a way that discriminates on the basis of sex.
- Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973) Sex-based discriminations are inherently suspect. A statute giving benefits to the spouses of male, but not female members of the uniformed services (on the assumption that only the former are dependent) is unconstitutional.
- Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) Setting different minimum ages for females (18) and males (21) to be allowed to buy beer is unconstitutional sex-based discrimination contrary to the Equal Protection Clause.
- United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996) Sex-based "separate but equal" military training facilities violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation
- Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986) A Georgia law that defines certain acts of private sexual conduct between homosexual persons as a crime does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. (Overruled by Lawrence v. Texas (2003))
- Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996) A Colorado state constitutional amendment that disqualifies homosexuals from obtaining protections under the law is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
- Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) A Texas law criminalizing adults who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct furthers no legitimate state interest and violates their right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. This decision effectively nullifies all sodomy laws in the United States.
- Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003) The denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates provisions of the state constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equality and is not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. This was the first state court decision in which same-sex couples won the right to marry.
- United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines—for federal law purposes—the terms "marriage" and "spouse" to apply only to marriages between one man and one woman, is a deprivation of the equal liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The federal government must recognize same-sex marriages that have been approved by the states.
Birth control and abortion
- Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) A Connecticut law that criminalizes the use of contraception by married couples is unconstitutional because all Americans have a constitutionally protected right to privacy.
- Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) A Massachusetts law that criminalizes the use of contraception by unmarried couples violates the right to privacy established in Griswold as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Laws that restrict a woman's ability to have an abortion prior to viability are unconstitutional. Most restrictions during the first trimester are prohibited, and only health-related restrictions are permitted during the second trimester.
- Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977) Laws that restrict the sale, distribution, and advertisement of contraceptives to both adults and minors are unconstitutional.
- Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) A woman is still able to have an abortion before viability, but several restrictions are now permitted during the first trimester. The strict trimester framework of Roe is discarded and replaced with the more vague "undue burden" test.
- Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000) Laws that ban partial-birth abortion are unconstitutional if they do not make an exception for the woman's health or if they cannot be reasonably construed to apply only to the partial-birth abortion procedure and not to other abortion methods.
- Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007) Congress can prohibit a specific abortion procedure, in this case intact dilation and extraction, which is also known as partial-birth abortion, on the grounds that it "implicates additional ethical and moral concerns that justify a special prohibition."
End of life
- Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) When a family has requested the termination of life-sustaining treatments for their vegetative relative, the state may constitutionally oppose this request if there is a lack of evidence of a clear earlier wish by said relative.
- Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) Washington's prohibition on assisted suicide is constitutional.
- Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997) New York's prohibition on assisted suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.
- Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243 (2006) The Controlled Substances Act does not prevent physicians from being able to prescribe the drugs needed to perform assisted suicides under state law.
Restrictions on involuntary commitment
- O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975) The states cannot involuntarily commit individuals if they are not a danger to themselves or others and are capable of living by themselves or with the aid of responsible family members or friends.
Power of Congress to enforce civil rights
- Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) The Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to places of public accommodation patronized by interstate travelers by reason of the Commerce Clause.
- Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964) The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce extends to a restaurant not patronized by interstate travelers, but which serves food that has moved in interstate commerce. This ruling makes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to virtually all businesses.
- Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966) Congress may enact laws stemming from Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment that increase the rights of citizens beyond what the judiciary has recognized.
- City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit Congress to substantially increase the scope of the rights determined by the judiciary. Congress may only enact remedial or preventative measures that are consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment interpretations of the Supreme Court.
- Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 546 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1823) Some of the rights protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause include the freedom of movement through the states, the right of access to the courts, the right to purchase and hold property, an exemption from higher taxes than those paid by state residents, and the right to vote.
- Crandall v. Nevada, 73 U.S. 35 (1868) The freedom of movement is a fundamental right; a state cannot inhibit people from leaving the state by taxing them.
- United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920) The Constitution grants to the states the power to prosecute individuals for wrongful interference with the right to travel.
- Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957) United States citizens abroad, even when associated with the military, cannot be deprived of the protections of the Constitution and cannot be made subject to military jurisdiction.
- United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745 (1966) There is a constitutional right to travel from state to state, and the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment extend to citizens who suffer rights deprivations at the hands of private conspiracies where there is minimal state participation in the conspiracy.
- Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253 (1967) The right of citizenship is protected by the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Congress has no power under the Constitution to revoke a person's United States citizenship unless he or she voluntarily relinquishes it.
Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures
- Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) Evidence that is obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is inadmissible in state court.
- Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) The Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to all places where an individual has a "reasonable expectation of privacy."
- Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) Individuals may sue federal government officials who have violated their Fourth Amendment rights even though such a suit is not authorized by law. The existence of a remedy for the violation is implied from the importance of the right that is violated.
- United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, 407 U.S. 297 (1972) Government officials must obtain a warrant before beginning electronic surveillance even if domestic security issues are involved. The "inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept" and the potential for abusing it to quell political dissent make the Fourth Amendment's protections especially important when the government engages in spying on its own citizens.
- New Jersey v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985) The Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches applies to those conducted by public school officials as well as those conducted by law enforcement personnel, but public school officials can use the less strict standard of reasonable suspicion instead of probable cause.
- Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995) Schools may implement random drug testing upon students participating in school-sponsored athletics.
- Board of Education v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002) Coercive drug testing imposed by school districts upon students who participate in extracurricular activities does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
- Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006) Police cannot conduct a warrantless search in a home where one occupant consents and the other objects.
- In re Directives, (2008) According to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement exists when surveillance is conducted to obtain foreign intelligence for national security purposes and is directed against foreign powers or agents of foreign powers reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.
- United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. ___ (2012) Attaching a GPS device to a vehicle and then using the device to monitor the vehicle’s movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.
Right to an attorney
- Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60 (1942) A defense lawyer's conflict of interest arising from a simultaneous representation of codefendants violates the Assistance of Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
- Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942) Indigent defendants may be denied counsel when prosecuted by a state. (Overruled by Gideon v. Wainwright (1963))
- Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) All defendants have the right to an attorney and must be provided one by the state if they are unable to afford legal counsel.
- Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964) A person in police custody has the right to speak to an attorney.
- Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) Police must advise criminal suspects of their rights under the Constitution to remain silent, to consult with a lawyer, and to have one appointed to them if they are indigent. A police interrogation must stop if the suspect states that he or she wishes to remain silent.
- In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) Juvenile defendants are protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986) If a police interrogation begins after a defendant asserts his or her right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding, then any waiver of that right for that police-initiated interrogation is invalid. (Overruled by Montejo v. Louisiana (2009))
- Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778 (2009) A defendant may waive his or her right to counsel during a police interrogation even if the interrogation begins after the defendant's assertion of his or her right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding.
Other rights regarding counsel
- Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) To obtain relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel, a criminal defendant must show that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that counsel's deficient performance gives rise to a reasonable probability that, if counsel had performed adequately, the result of the proceeding would have been different.
- Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010) Criminal defense attorneys are duty-bound to inform clients of the risk of deportation under three circumstances. First, where the law is unambiguous, attorneys must advise their criminal clients that deportation "will" result from a conviction. Second, where the immigration consequences of a conviction are unclear or uncertain, attorneys must advise that deportation "may" result. Finally, attorneys must give their clients some advice about deportation—counsel cannot remain silent about immigration consequences.
Right to remain silent
- Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) The right to remain silent does not exist unless a suspect invokes it unambiguously.
- Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) The Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination does not protect an individual's refusal to answer questions asked by law enforcement before he or she has been arrested or given the Miranda warning. A witness cannot invoke the privilege by simply standing mute; he or she must expressly invoke it.
- Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) A defendant has the right to a competency evaluation before proceeding to trial.
- Rogers v. Okin, 478 F. Supp. 1342 (D. Mass. 1979) The competence of a committed patient is presumed until he or she is adjudicated incompetent.
- Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) A defendant has the right to a competency evaluation before being executed.
- Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993) A defendant who is competent to stand trial is automatically competent to plead guilty or waive the right to legal counsel.
Detainment of terrorism suspects
- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004) The federal government has the power to detain those it designates as enemy combatants, including United States citizens, but detainees that are United States citizens must have the rights of due process and the ability to challenge their enemy combatant status before an impartial authority.
- Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004) The federal court system has the authority to decide if foreign nationals held at Guantanamo Bay were wrongfully imprisoned.
- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006) The military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay are illegal because they lack the protections that are required by the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008) Foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have the constitutional right to challenge their detention in United States courts.
- Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) The arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This decision initiates a nationwide de facto moratorium on executions that lasts until the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976).
- Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) Georgia's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it adequately narrows the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty. This case and the next four cases were consolidated and decided simultaneously. By evaluating the new death penalty statutes that had been passed by the states, the Supreme Court ended the moratorium on executions that began with its decision in Furman v. Georgia (1972).
- Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976) Florida's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it requires the comparison of aggravating factors to mitigating factors in order to impose a death sentence.
- Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262 (1976) Texas's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it uses a three-part test to determine if a death sentence should be imposed.
- Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976) North Carolina's new death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it allows a mandatory death sentence to be imposed.
- Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976) Louisiana's new death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it calls for a mandatory death sentence for a large range of crimes.
- Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) A death sentence may not be imposed for the crime of rape.
- Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982) A death sentence may not be imposed on offenders who are involved in a felony during which a murder is committed but who do not actually kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place.
- Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) A death sentence may not be imposed on the insane.
- Breard v. Greene, 523 U.S. 371 (1998) The International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in capital punishment cases that involve foreign nationals.
- Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) A death sentence may not be imposed on mentally retarded offenders, but the states can define what it means to be mentally retarded.
- Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) A death sentence may not be imposed on juvenile offenders.
- Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) The three-drug cocktail used for performing executions by lethal injection in Kentucky (as well as virtually all of the states using lethal injection at the time) is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment.
- Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) The death penalty is unconstitutional in all cases that do not involve murder or crimes against the state such as treason.
Other criminal sentences
- Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders.
- Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.
- Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793) The Constitution prevents the states from exercising sovereign immunity. Therefore, the states can be sued in federal court by citizens of other states. This decision was voided by the Eleventh Amendment in 1795, just two years after it was handed down.
- Hylton v. United States, 3 U.S. 171 (1796) A tax on the possession of goods is not a direct tax that must be apportioned among the states according to their populations. This case featured the first example of judicial review by the Supreme Court.
- Ware v. Hylton, 3 U.S. 199 (1796) A section of the Treaty of Paris supersedes an otherwise valid Virginia statute under the Supremacy Clause. This case featured the first example of judicial nullification of a state law.
- Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is unconstitutional because it attempts to expand the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond that permitted by the Constitution. Congress cannot pass laws that contradict the Constitution. This case featured the first example of judicial nullification of a federal law.
- Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810) A state legislature can repeal a corruptly made law, but the Contract Clause of the Constitution prohibits the voiding of valid contracts made under such a law. This was the first case in which the Supreme Court struck down a state law as unconstitutional.
- Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816) Federal courts may review state court decisions when they rest on federal law or the federal Constitution. This decision provides for the uniform interpretation of federal law throughout the states.
- McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819) The Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution grants to Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution's express powers, and state actions may not impede valid exercises of power by the federal government.
- Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) The power to regulate interstate navigation is granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
- Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833) The Bill of Rights cannot be applied to the state governments. This decision has essentially been rendered moot by the Supreme Court's adoption of the incorporation doctrine, which uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to apply portions of the Bill of Rights to the states. The Court did this for the first time in the 1925 case of Gitlow v. New York.
- Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. 299 (1852) When local circumstances make it necessary the states can regulate interstate commerce as long as such regulations do not conflict with federal law. State laws related to commerce powers can be valid if Congress is silent on the matter.
- Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859) State courts cannot issue rulings that contradict the decisions of federal courts.
- Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) The states that formed the Confederate States of America during the Civil War never actually left the Union because a state cannot unilaterally secede from the United States.
- Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895) Income taxes on interest, dividends, and rents are, in effect, direct taxes that must be apportioned among the states according to their populations. This decision was voided by the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, allowing income taxes to be implemented without apportionment.
- Swift and Company v. United States, 196 U.S. 375 (1905) Congress can prohibit local business practices in order to regulate interstate commerce because those practices, when combined together, form a "stream of commerce" between the states. (Superseded by National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation (1937))
- Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908) Sovereign immunity cannot be used to bar suits against state officials for injunctive relief under the Constitution when said officials were not acting on behalf of the state when they sought to enforce an unconstitutional law.
- Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920) Treaties made by the federal government are supreme over any concerns brought by the states about such treaties interfering with any states' rights derived from the Tenth Amendment.
- United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920) The Constitution grants to the states the power to prosecute individuals for wrongful interference with the right to travel.
- National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 (1937) The National Labor Relations Act and, by extension, the National Labor Relations Board are constitutional because the Commerce Clause applies to labor relations. Therefore, the NLRB has the right to sanction companies that fire or discriminate against workers for belonging to a union. Also, a local commercial activity that is considered in isolation may still constitute interstate commerce if that activity has a "close and substantial relationship" to interstate commerce.
- Steward Machine Company v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937) The federal government is permitted to impose a tax even if the goal of the tax is not just the collection of revenue.
- United States v. Darby Lumber Co., 312 U.S. 100 (1941) Control over interstate commerce belongs entirely to Congress. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because it prevents the states from lowering labor standards to gain commercial advantages.
- Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942) The Commerce Clause of the Constitution allows Congress to regulate anything that has a substantial economic effect on commerce even if that effect is indirect.
- Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958) The states are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court and cannot choose to ignore them.
- Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970) Congress has the power to regulate requirements for voting in federal elections, but it is prohibited from regulating requirements for voting in state and local elections. This decision led to the ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment in 1971, which lowered the minimum voting age to 18 for all elections.
- South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987) Congress may attach reasonable conditions to funds disbursed to the states without violating the Tenth Amendment.
- U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995) The states cannot create qualifications for prospective members of Congress that are stricter than those specified in the Constitution. This decision invalidates provisions that had imposed term limits on members of Congress in 23 states.
- United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 is unconstitutional. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to prohibit the mere possession of a gun near a school because gun possession by itself is not an economic activity that affects interstate commerce even indirectly.
- Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997) The interim provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that requires state and local officials to conduct background checks on firearm purchasers violates the Tenth Amendment.
- Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998) The Line Item Veto Act of 1996 is unconstitutional because it allows the President to amend or repeal parts of statutes without the pre-approval of Congress. According to the Presentment Clause of the Constitution, Congress must initiate all changes to existing laws.
- United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) The section of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that gives victims of gender-motivated violence the right to sue their attackers in federal court is an unconstitutional intrusion on states' rights.
- Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) Congress may ban the use of marijuana even in states that have approved its use for medicinal purposes.
- National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional as-written—it is unduly coercive to force the states to choose between participating in the expansion or forgoing all Medicaid funds. In addition, the individual health insurance mandate is constitutional by virtue of the Taxing and Spending Clause (though not by the Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause).
First Amendment rights
- Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915) Motion pictures are not entitled to free speech protection because they are a business, not a form of art. (Overruled by Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952))
- Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) Expressions in which the circumstances are intended to result in a crime and pose a clear and present danger of succeeding can be punished without violating the First Amendment.
- Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925) The provisions of the First Amendment that protect the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press apply to the governments of the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 (1931) A Minnesota law that imposes prior restraints on the publication of "malicious, scandalous, and defamatory" content violates the First Amendment as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931) A California law that bans red flags is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment's protection of symbolic speech as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942) Fighting words—words that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace—are not protected by the First Amendment.
- Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952) Motion pictures, as a form of artistic expression, are protected by the First Amendment.
- Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957) Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. (Superseded by Miller v. California (1973))
- One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371 (1958) Pro-homosexual writing is not per se obscene.
- New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) Public officials, to prove they were libelled, must show not only that a statement is false, but also that it was published with malicious intent.
- Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967) News organizations may be liable when printing allegations about public figures if the information they disseminate is recklessly gathered and unchecked.
- Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) The mere advocacy of the use of force or of violation of the law is protected by the First Amendment. Only inciting others to take direct and immediate unlawful action is without constitutional protection.
- Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) Wearing armbands as a form of protest on public school grounds is protected by the First Amendment.
- Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) The First Amendment prohibits the states from making the public display of a single four-letter expletive a criminal offense without a more specific and compelling reason than a general tendency to disturb the peace.
- New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) The federal government's desire to keep the Pentagon Papers classified is not strong enough to justify a violation of the First Amendment.
- Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) To be obscene, a work must fail the Miller test, which determines if it has any "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
- Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974) The First Amendment permits the states to formulate their own standards of liability for defamation against private individuals as long as liability is not imposed without fault. If the state standard is lower than actual malice, then only actual damages may be awarded.
- Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) Spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, but federal limits on campaign contributions are constitutional.
- Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978) Broadcasting has less First Amendment protection than other forms of communication because of its pervasive nature. The Federal Communications Commission has broad authority to determine what constitutes indecency in different contexts.
- Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986) The First Amendment permits a public school to punish a student for giving a lewd and indecent speech at a school assembly even if the speech is not obscene.
- Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988) Public school curricular student newspapers that have not been established as forums for student expression are subject to a lower level of First Amendment protection than independent student expression or newspapers established by policy or practice as forums for student expression.
- Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988) Parodies of public figures, including those intended to cause emotional distress, are protected by the First Amendment.
- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) A Texas law that criminalizes the desecration of the American flag is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment's protection of symbolic speech. This decision invalidates laws prohibiting flag desecration in 48 of the 50 states—Alaska and Wyoming are the two exceptions.
- Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991) While nude dancing is a form of expressive conduct, public indecency laws regulating or prohibiting nude dancing are constitutional because they further substantial governmental interests in maintaining order and protecting morality.
- Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844 (1997) The Communications Decency Act, which regulates certain content on the Internet, is so overbroad that it is an unconstitutional restraint on the First Amendment.
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) Limits on corporate and union political expenditures during election cycles violate the First Amendment. Corporations and labor unions can spend unlimited sums in support of or in opposition to candidates as long as the spending is independent of the candidates.
- Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. ___ (2011) The infamous Westboro Baptist Church's picketing of funerals cannot be liable for a tort of emotional distress.
- Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. ___ (2011) Video games are a distinct communications medium protected by the First Amendment.
- McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014) Limits on the total amounts of money that individuals can donate to political campaigns during two-year election cycles violate the First Amendment.
- Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879) Religious belief or duty cannot be used as a defense against a criminal indictment.
- Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890) The Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882 does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment even though polygamy is part of several religious beliefs.
- Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) The states cannot interfere with the free exercise of religion.
- Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940) The First Amendment does not require public schools to excuse students from saluting the American flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on religious grounds. (Overruled by West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943))
- Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943) A Pennsylvania ordinance that imposes a license tax on those selling religious merchandise violates the Free Exercise Clause.
- West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) Public schools cannot override the religious beliefs of their students by forcing them to salute the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
- Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) A state law that reimburses the costs of transportation to and from parochial schools does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause is incorporated against the states, and the Constitution requires a sharp separation between government and religion.
- McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) The use of public school facilities by religious organizations to give religious instruction to school children violates the Establishment Clause.
- Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) Government-directed prayer in public schools, even if it is denominationally neutral and non-mandatory, violates the Establishment Clause.
- Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963) School-sponsored reading of the Bible and recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.
- Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968) Taxpayers have standing to sue to prevent the disbursement of federal funds in contravention of the specific constitutional prohibition against government support of religion.
- Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion.
- Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) Parents may remove their children from public schools for religious reasons.
- Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) Teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional.
- Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) Neutral laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause.
- Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992) Including a clergy-led prayer within the events of a public school graduation ceremony violates the Establishment Clause.
- Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993) The government must show a compelling interest to pass a law that targets a religion's ritual (as opposed to a law that happens to burden the ritual but is not directed at it). Failing to show such an interest, the prohibition of animal sacrifice is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.
- Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995) A university cannot fund secular groups using student dues but exclude religious groups that qualify under the same funding scheme.
- Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997) Allowing public school teachers to teach at parochial schools does not violate the Establishment Clause as long as the material that is taught is secular and neutral in nature and no "excessive entanglement" between government and religion is apparent.
- Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) Prayer in public schools that is initiated and led by students violates the Establishment Clause.
- Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002) A government program that provides tuition vouchers for students to attend a private or religious school of their parents' choosing is constitutional because the vouchers are neutral toward religion and, therefore, do not violate the Establishment Clause.
- Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005) Teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause because intelligent design is not science, and it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
- Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 565 U.S. ___ (2012) Ministers cannot sue their churches by claiming termination in violation of employment non-discrimination laws. The Establishment Clause forbids the appointing of ministers by the government; therefore, it cannot interfere with the freedom of religious groups to select their own ministers under the Free Exercise Clause.
- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958) The freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the "advancement of beliefs and ideas" is an inseparable part of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 (1995) Private citizens organizing a public demonstration have the right to exclude groups whose message they disagree with from participating.
- Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000) Private organizations are allowed to choose their own membership and expel members based on their sexual orientation even if such discrimination would otherwise be prohibited by anti-discrimination legislation designed to protect minorities in public accommodations.
- Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963) The Free Petition Clause extends to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508 (1972) The Free Petition Clause encompasses petitions to all three branches of the federal government—the Congress, the executive including administrative agencies and the judiciary.
Second Amendment rights
- United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) The Second Amendment has no purpose other than to restrict the powers of the federal government. It does not specifically grant private citizens the right to keep and bear arms because that right exists independent of the Constitution.
- Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886) An Illinois law that prohibits common citizens from forming personal military organizations, performing drills, and parading is constitutional because such a law does not limit the personal right to keep and bear arms.
- United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) The federal government and the states can limit access to all weapons that do not have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use it for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense within the home.
- McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010) The individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is fully applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. 518 (1819) Extended contract rights to corporations and established the differences between public and private corporations.
- Johnson v. M'Intosh, 21 U.S. 543 (1823) Private citizens cannot purchase lands from Native Americans.
- Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 2 (1866) Trying citizens in military courts is unconstitutional when civilian courts are still operating. Trial by military tribunal is constitutional only when there is no power left but the military, and the military may validly try criminals only as long as is absolutely necessary.
- Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873) The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to the benefits of federal United States citizenship but not to the benefits of state citizenship.
- The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900) Federal courts may look to customary international law because it is an integrated part of American law.
- Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (1903) Congress may use its plenary power to unilaterally break treaty obligations between the United States and Native American tribes.
- Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905) The "right to free contract" or "liberty of contract" is implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U.S. 366 (1918) The Selective Service Act of 1917 and, more generally, conscription do not violate the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition of involuntary servitude or the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of thought.
- Dillon v. Gloss, 256 U.S. 368 (1921) Congress may set a deadline for the ratification of a new constitutional amendment if it wishes to do so.
- Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936) A defendant's confession that is extracted by police violence cannot be entered as evidence and violates the Due Process Clause.
- United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304 (1936) The Constitution implies that the ability to conduct foreign policy is vested entirely in the President. The President has plenary power in the foreign affairs field that does not depend on congressional delegation.
- Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938) Federal courts in diversity jurisdiction cases must apply the law of the states in which they sit, including the judicial doctrine of the state's highest court, where it does not conflict with federal law. There is no general federal common law.
- Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939) A proposed amendment to the Constitution is considered pending before the states indefinitely unless Congress establishes a deadline by which the states must act. Furthermore, Congress—not the courts—is responsible for deciding whether an amendment has been validly ratified.
- International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945) Minimum contacts with the forum state can enable a court in that state to exert personal jurisdiction over a party consistent with the Due Process Clause.
- Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) The President cannot seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under the Constitution or statutory authority given to him or her by Congress.
- Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957) The Constitution supersedes all treaties ratified by the Senate.
- Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1959) State courts do not have jurisdiction on Indian reservations without the authorization of Congress.
- Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962) The redistricting of state legislative districts is not a political question, so it is justiciable by the federal courts.
- Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964) The Constitution requires that the members of the House of Representatives be selected from districts composed, as nearly as is practicable, of equal population.
- Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964) The populations of state legislative districts must be as equal as mathematically possible so as to ensure equal protection.
- Menominee Tribe v. United States, 391 U.S. 404 (1968) Native American treaty rights are not repealed without a clear and unequivocal statement to that effect from Congress.
- Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970) The termination of welfare benefits must be preceded by a full evidentiary hearing under the Due Process Clause.
- San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) The use of property taxes to finance public education does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Oneida Indian Nation of New York v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661 (1974) There is federal subject-matter jurisdiction for possessory land claims brought by Indian tribes based upon aboriginal title, the Nonintercourse Act, and Indian treaties.
- United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) The doctrine of executive privilege is legitimate; however, the President cannot invoke it in criminal cases to withhold evidence.
- Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) When procedural due process applies, courts must consider the government's interests, the individual's interests, and the likelihood of making an inaccurate decision using the existing procedures as well as the probable value of additional procedural safeguards.
- Nixon v. General Services Administration, 433 U.S. 425 (1977) Congress has the power to pass a law that directs the seizure and disposition of the papers and tapes of a former president that are within the control of the Executive Branch.
- Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984) A government agency's interpretation of its own mandate from Congress is entitled to judicial deference if the authority is ambiguous and the agency's interpretation is reasonable.
- Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984) Manufacturers of home video recording machines cannot be liable for contributory copyright infringement for the potential uses by their purchasers because the devices are sold for legitimate purposes and have substantial non-infringing uses. Personal use of the machines to record broadcast television programs for later viewing constitutes fair use.
- Selle v. Gibb, 741 F. 2d 896 (7th Cir. 1984) Substantial similarity is not enough in the absence of proof of access. Evidence of access must extend beyond mere speculation.
- Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Company, Inc., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) Originality, not sweat of the brow, is required for a work to obtain copyright protection.
- Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) Scientific evidence that is admitted in federal court must be valid and relevant to the case at hand.
- Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997) The President has no immunity that could require civil law litigation against him or her involving a dispute unrelated to the office of President to be stayed until the end of his or her term. Such a delay would deprive the parties to the suit of the right to a speedy trial that is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
- Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000) The recount of ballots in Florida during the 2000 presidential election violated the Equal Protection Clause because different standards of counting were used in the counties that were subjected to the recount. This decision effectively resolved the election in favor of the Republican nominee, George W. Bush.
- Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) Local governments may seize property for economic development purposes.
- Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497 (2007) Greenhouse gases are air pollutants, and the Environmental Protection Agency may regulate their emission under the Clean Air Act.
- Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 569 U.S. ___ (2013) Naturally occurring DNA sequences, even when isolated from the body, cannot be patented, but artificially created DNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring.
- Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which contains the coverage formula that determines which state and local jurisdictions are subjected to federal preclearance from the United States Department of Justice before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices based on their histories of racial discrimination in voting, is unconstitutional.
- Selya, Bruce M. (August 22, 2008). "United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review Case No. 08-01 In Re Directives [redacted text] Pursuant to Section 105B of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act". United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (via the Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved July 15, 2013.