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”, a measurable standard that can be applied by courts in future decisions.
In the United States, landmark court decisions come most frequently from the United States Supreme Court. United States Courts of Appeal may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case, or adopts the holding of the court below. 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; or their descendants, cannot be U.S. citizens. Consequently, they cannot sue in federal courts. 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 U.S. Constitution.
- Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) Neither the Thirteenth nor Fourteenth Amendments empowered 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 held for close to 60 years. (overruled by Brown v. Board of Education (1954), see below).
- Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) American citizens of Japanese descent can be interned and deprived of basic constitutional rights; first application of the strict scrutiny test.
- Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) Primary elections must be open to voters of all races.
- Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946) Virginia's state law enforcing segregation on interstate buses was illegal.
- 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 makes it unlawful for a railroad 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), for relief 349 U.S. 294 (1955), prior cases 344 U.S. 1 (1952), 344 U.S. 141 (1952) Segregated schools in the several states are unconstitutional in violation of the 14th Amendment. Found that "The "separate but equal" doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, "has no place in the field of public education."
- Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954) The companion case to Brown, which held that segregated schools in the District of Columbia violated the 5th Amendment.
- Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956) Bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment protections for equal treatment.
- Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) Racial segregation in public transportation is illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act. See also Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) in which the Interstate Commerce Commission interpreted the non-discrimination language of the Interstate Commerce Act as banning the segregation of black passengers in buses traveling across state lines.
- Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) Laws that prohibit marriage between races (anti-miscegenation statutes) 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.
- Gates v. Collier, 501 F.2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1974) Brought an end to the trustee system and flagrant inmate abuse at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, Mississippi. It was the first case of a body of law developed in the Fifth Circuit holding that a variety of forms of corporal punishment against prisoners was considered cruel and unusual punishment and abolished racial segregation in prison.
- Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) Race based set-asides in educational opportunities violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The decision leaves the door open to some race usage in admission decisions. See Grutter v. Bollinger.
- Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995) Race based discrimination, including discrimination in favor of minorities (affirmative action), is subject to strict judicial 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, as a diverse student body is beneficial for all students (as hinted in Regents v. Bakke).
Discrimination based on sex
- Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) Oregon state 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 pre-school-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 between sexes.
- 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 were dependent) is unconstitutional.
- Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) Setting different minimum ages according to sex (female 18, male 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 to be a crime does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Overruled by Lawrence v. Texas in 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 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 Due Process Clause. (effectively bans all sodomy laws in the United States)
- 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 Due Process Clause. (The Federal Government of the United States is thereby obliged to recognize same-sex marriages approved by states).
Birth control and abortion
- Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) Married people are entitled to use contraception and making it a crime to sell to them is unconstitutional. (A later case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972), extended this to unmarried adults.)
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Struck down abortion laws restricting induced abortion prior to viability as unconstitutional, prohibiting most restrictions in the first trimester and permitting only health-related restrictions in the second.
- Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977) Struck down laws restricting the sale, distribution, and advertisement of contraceptives to adults as well as to minors (persons younger than 16 years of age).
- Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) Placed tighter restrictions on abortion by upholding parts of Pennsylvania's abortion laws. Also reaffirmed the decisions of Roe v. Wade (1973) but permitted additional restrictions in the first trimester.
- Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000) Laws banning 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 (Intact Dilation and Extraction) procedure and not to other abortion methods.
- Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007) Held that the Congress can prohibit a specific abortion procedure (Intact dilation and extraction—also known as partial-birth abortion) on grounds that it "implicates additional ethical and moral concerns that justify a special prohibition."
End of life
- Cruzan v. Dir., Mo. Dep't of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) Family having requested the termination of life-sustaining treatments of their vegetative relative, the state may constitutionally oppose this request, for lack of evidence of a clear earlier wish by said relative.
- Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) Washington's prohibition on assisting suicide is constitutional.
- Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997) New York's prohibition on assisting suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.
- Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243 (2006) The Controlled Substances Act does not prevent physicians prescribing drugs for the assisted suicide of the terminally ill under state (Oregon) law.
Restrictions on involuntary commitment
- O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975) States could not involuntarily commit citizens to a psychiatric institution if they were not a danger to themselves or others and were capable of living by themselves, or with the aid of responsible family or friends.
Power of Congress to enforce civil rights
- Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) Interstate commerce, and hence the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination against blacks) applies to places of public accommodation patronized by interstate travelers.
- Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964), 379 U.S. 802 (1964) The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce (Article I, section 8) 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.
- City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). The enforcement clause of the 14th Amendment gives no power to Congress to do more than adopt remedial measures consistent with Fourteenth Amendment interpretations of the Supreme Court. The clause doesn't permit it Congress to substantially increase the scope of the rights determined by the Judiciary (here, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993), Congress can only enact legislation that remedies or prevents actual violations of existing Court-determined rights.
- Corfield v. Coryell, 6 Fed. Cas. 546 (C.C.E.D.Pa. 1823), rights protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause include among others the right to travel through states, the right of access to the courts, the right to purchase and hold property, and an exemption from higher taxes than state residents pay.
- Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), U.S. citizens abroad, even when associated with the military, are not deprived of the protection of the Constitution or of the Bill of Rights and cannot be made subject to military jurisdiction.
Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
- Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) Evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the United States Constitution is inadmissible in a criminal trial in a state court.
- Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) Evidence obtained by wiretapping a public phonebooth without a warrant is not admissible in court, just as if a private phone line had been eavesdropped.
- United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972) Government officials are obligated to obtain a warrant before beginning electronic surveillance even if domestic security issues were involved. The "inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept" and the potential for abusing it to quell political dissent made the Fourth Amendment protections especially important when the government engaged in spying on its own citizens.
- New Jersey v. T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985) The Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches applies to those conducted by public school officials as well as those conducted by law enforcement personnel, but they can use the less strict standard of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “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 (1995) Coercive drug testing imposed by school district 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), a United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling which hold that a foreign intelligence 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. Antoine Jones, 565 U. S. 10-1259 (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 co-defendants violates the Assistance of Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
- Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that denied counsel to indigent defendants when prosecuted by a state. It was famously overruled by Gideon v. Wainwright.
- Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) Anyone charged with a serious criminal offense has the right to an attorney and the state must provide one 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 if the suspect is indigent. The interrogation must stop if the suspect states he or she wishes to remain silent.
- In re Gault 387 U.S. 1 (1967) Juveniles accused with a crime are protected under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 07-1529 (2009) A defendant may waive his right to counsel for police interrogation, even if police initiate the interrogation after the defendant's assertion of his right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding. This decision overruled Michigan v. Jackson.
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. Commonwealth of Kentucky 253 U.S. 482 (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. 08-1470 (2010) The right to remain silent does not exist unless a suspect invokes it unambiguously.
- Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. 12-246 (2013) The Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination is not self-executing and must be expressly invoked. Although there is no ritualistic formula necessary to invoke the privilege, a witness cannot do so by simply standing mute. (includes questioning during police interviews before a suspect is placed in custody or receives Miranda warnings)
- Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) Affirmed a defendant's right to have a competency evaluation before proceeding to trial.
- Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986), Affirmed a defendant's right to have a competency evaluation before being executed.
- Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993) A defendant competent to stand trial is automatically competent to plead guilty or waive the right to legal counsel.
- Rogers v. Okin, 478 F.Supp. 1342 (D. Mass. 1979) The competency of committed patients is presumed until a patient is adjudicated incompetent.
- Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) The method then in effect for imposing the death penalty is unconstitutional.
- Jurek v. Texas 428 U.S. 262 (1976) A "three-pronged" test for determining if the death penalty should be imposed is constitutional.
- Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976) North Carolina's mandatory death sentence statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
- Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) Carefully drafted death penalty statutes may be constitutional. This ruling made executions possible again after Furman v. Georgia (see above) had stopped them.
- Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976) Requirement of comparison of mitigating to aggravating factors to be used to impose death sentence is constitutional.
- Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976), 431 U.S. 633 (1977) Mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional.
- Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977), 431 U.S. 633 (1977) The sentence of death for the crime of rape is grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment and is therefore forbidden by the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.
- Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982) The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment does not allow the death penalty for a person who is involved in a felony in the course of which a murder is committed, but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place.
- Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) Upheld the common law rule that the insane cannot be executed.
- Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) Executing mentally retarded individuals violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishments, but states can define who is mentally retarded.
- Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) A sentence of death may not be imposed on juveniles.
- Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) A sentence of death may not be imposed for the crime of rape, when the victim did not die and death was not intended.
Other criminal sentences
- Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 08-7412 (2010) A sentence of life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, may not be imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders.
- Miller v. Alabama, (2012) Life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.
- Hylton v. United States 3 U.S. 171 (1796) A tax on the possession of goods is not a "direct" tax, which must be apportioned under Article One of the United States Constitution. First instance of judicial review (compare Judicial review in the United States - Court decisions from 1788 to 1803).
- Ware v. Hylton 3 U.S. 199 (1796) The US Supreme Court held that the Treaty of Paris (1783) superseded an otherwise valid Virginia statute and used the Supremacy Clause to nullify the law. First example of judicial nullification of a state law (compare Judicial review in the United States - Court decisions from 1788 to 1803).
- Marbury v. Madison 5 U.S. 137 (1803) Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is unconstitutional to the extent it purports to enlarge the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond that permitted by the Constitution. Congress cannot pass laws that are contrary to the Constitution. First example of judicial nullification of a federal law (compare Judicial review in the United States - Marbury v. Madison).
- 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 various states.
- McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819). The court stated the doctrine of implied powers, from the Necessary and Proper Clause at Article I, section 8. To fulfill its goal, the federal government may use any means the constitution does not forbid (as opposed to only what the constitution explicitly allow or only what can be proved to be necessary). State government may in no way hinder the legitimate action of the federal government (here, Maryland cannot levy a tax on the Bank of the United States). The court has varied in time on the extents of the implied powers with a markedly narrower reading approximately from the 1840s to the 1930s).
- 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.
- Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. 299 (1852) U.S. 299 (1852), When local circumstances make it necessary the states can regulate interstate commerce, providing that such regulations do not conflict with federal law. States' laws related to commerce powers can be valid so long as 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.
- Swift & Co. v. United States, 62 U.S. 375 (1905), Congress could constitutionally prohibit local business practices as a means to regulate interstate commerce because those practices, when combined together, were within "the stream of commerce" between the states. The Swift holding was later replaced by the Supreme Court's N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937) decision which hold that a local commercial activity considered in isolation may still constitute "interstate commerce" if that activity has a "close and substantial relationship" to interstate commerce.
- Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920) Treaties made by the federal government are supreme over any state concerns about such treaties having abrogated any states' rights arising under the Tenth Amendment.
- United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920) The Constitution grants to states, not the federal government, 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) Confirmed the constitutionality of The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which created the National Labor Relations Board. Ruled that the Commerce Clause applies to labor relations, and therefore the NLRB has the right to sanction companies that fire or discriminate against workers for belonging to a union.
- 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 simply the collection of revenue (in this case, it was argued that a tax upon employers was designed to coerce states into adopting laws providing unemployment compensation).
- United States v. Darby Lumber Co., 312 U.S. 100 (1941) Affirmed the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 under The Commerce Clause, since the act prevented states from lowering labor standards to gain commercial advantage. Affirmed that control over interstate commerce belongs entirely to congress.
- 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) States are bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and cannot choose to ignore them.
- United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) Ruled that the doctrine of executive privilege is legitimate, however the President cannot invoke it in criminal cases to withhold evidence.
- South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987) It is permissible to withhold Federal highway funds to encourage states to meet a federal standard setting the minimum legal age for purchasing and possessing alcoholic beverages.
- U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995) State law cannot set term limits on members of Congress.
- United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) The Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to prohibit mere possession of a gun near a school, because gun possession by itself is not an economic activity that affects interstate commerce even indirectly.
- Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997) The President of the United States has no particular immunity, which could require civil law litigation against the President for a dispute unrelated to the office of President (e.g. having occurred before (s) he took office), to be stayed until the end of the President's term. Such delay would deprive plaintiffs, (and arguably the defendant), of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
- Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998) The line-item veto is unconstitutional on a federal level, as it amounts to a presidential amendment to the law without the pre-authorization of Congress. According to the Constitution, Congress must initiate all amendments to existing laws.
- Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997) Certain interim provisions of the Brady Act requiring state officials to execute a federal law (in doing background checks for gun ownership) are unconstitutional.
- United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) Parts of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 were unconstitutional because they exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause and under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) Congress may ban the use of marijuana even where states approve 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).
First Amendment rights
Freedom of speech and of the press
- Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) Established the idea that "clear and present danger" in certain speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Schenck's attempts to obstruct recruitment processes were perceived as a "clear and present danger that will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent".
- Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697 (1931) Recognized the freedom of the press by rejecting prior restraints on publication. Except in rare cases, censorship is unconstitutional.
- Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931) Symbolic speech or "expressive conduct" covered by the First Amendment is protected from state infringement by the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942) Established the "fighting words doctrine" that some words are not protected under the First Amendment because they are tantamount to violent actions.
- Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 342 U.S. 495 (1952) Motion pictures, as a form of artistic expression, are protected by the First Amendment. The decision overturned Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230 (1915).
- Roth v. United States (and Alberts v. California), 354 U.S. 476 (1957) Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment.
- One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371 (1958) Pro-homosexual writing is not per se obscene.
- New York Times v. Sullivan (and Abernathy 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 has been published with malicious intent.
- Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) Mere advocacy of the use of force, or of violation of law (in this case, by a Ku Klux Klan leader) is protected by the 1st Amendment free speech clause. Only inciting others to take direct and immediate unlawful action would be without constitutional protection.
- Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) Wearing armbands is a legitimate form of protest under the First Amendment, even on public school grounds.
- Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) One should not be convicted for wearing a jacket in a courtroom emblazoned with the phrase "Fuck the Draft" (in the Vietnam War context), as this is communication, protected by the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. The word "fuck" itself, clearly not directed at the hearer, is not in this particular instance a fighting word, and so not without constitutional protection.
- New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) Government's desire to keep so-called "Pentagon Papers" classified is insufficient to overcome 1st Amendment hurdle.
- Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) To be obscene, a work must fail several tests to determine its value to society, essentially having "no redeeming social value" to be so declared.
- Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) Spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech.
- Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978) Defined the power of the FCC to regulate indecent broadcasts, including the so-called "seven dirty words" that could then not be said on TV or radio.
- Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986) The First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, permits a public school to punish a student for giving a lewd and indecent, but not obscene, speech at a school assembly.
- Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, 438 U.S. 726 (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) A public figure shown in a parody must show actual malice to claim he is libelled.
- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) Law prohibiting burning of the American flag is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment.
- Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991) Nude dancing is not protected by the 1st Amendment.
- Reno v. ACLU, 520 U.S. 1113 (1997) The Communications Decency Act, regulating certain content on the Internet, is so overbroad as to be an unconstitutional restraint on the 1st Amendment.
- Erie v. Pap's A. M., 529 U.S. 277 (2000) Upholding the 1991 ruling that nude dancing is not protected by the 1st Amendment.
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), limits on corporate and union political expenditures during an election cycle violate the First Amendment. Corporations and labor unions can spend unlimited sums in support of or opposition to candidates, as long as the spending is independent of the candidates.
- Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 08-1448 (2011), video games are a distinct communications medium protected by the First Amendment.[
- Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940) Free exercise of religion is protected from intrusive state action through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940) Public schools can compel students to salute the American Flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance despite the students' religious objections to these practices. Later overruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
- Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943) A Pennsylvania ordinance imposing a license tax for those selling merchandise when such material is religious in nature violates the Free Exercise clause.
- Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) Government reimbursing transportation costs to and from Catholic schools does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; however, a wall of separation must be erected between church and state.
- 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 of the First Amendment.
- 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 of the First Amendment.
- Abington School District v. Schempp (and Murray v. Curlett), 374 U.S. 203 (1963) The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment forbids state mandated reading of the Bible, or recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools.
- Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, 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 children from public school for religious reasons.
- Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) Teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional.
- Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992) Public schools inviting clergy to read prayer at an official ceremony (here a graduation ceremony) violates First Amendment non-establishment clause.
- Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993) Government must show a compelling interest to draw a statute targeting a religion's ritual (as opposed to a statute 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 First Amendment free exercise clause.
- Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995) University can not fund secular groups from student dues, then exclude religious ones that also qualify under the same funding scheme.
- Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203 (1997) A government program sending government employees to parochial schools (and also, to other private schools) specifically to provide remedial education to disadvantaged children (and not to all children) does not violate the First Amendment non establishment clause.
- Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) A Texas public school district’s policy of having students vote on a prayer to be read by a student at football games violated the Establishment Clause. The voting policy resulted in religious coercion of the minority by the majority.
- Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 239 (2002) A government program providing tuition vouchers for Cleveland schoolchildren to attend a private or religious school of their parents’ choosing was upheld, concluding that the vouchers were neutral towards religion and therefore did 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 of the First Amendment because intelligent design is not science and "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
- Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, (2012) The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws. The government is by the Establishment Clause barred from appointing ministers and can not interfere with the freedom of religious groups to select their own due to the Free Exercise Clause.
Right to assemble and petition the government
- Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 (1995) Private parade organizers have a right to exclude groups with whose message they disagree from participating.
- Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000) Private organizations' First Amendment right of expressive association allows them 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.
Second Amendment rights
The right of the people to keep and bear arms
- District of Columbia v. Heller 554 U.S. 570 (2008) Ruled that "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."
- McDonald v. Chicago (2010) Ruled that The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is fully applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
Legality of targeted firearms prohibition
- United States v. Miller 307 U.S. 174 (1939) Held that a sawed-off shotgun did not constitute a weapon suitable for militia use, and therefore verified the constitutional integrity of the National Firearms Act. Prior to Heller, Miller was the primary legislation covering the individual right to bear arms, and its more conservative interpretation of individual rights (in the context of the militia) was the primary jurisprudential basis for subsequent legislation outlawing specific weapon types. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act 1994, especially, was dependent on Miller, and the future of such legislation in the context of Heller is yet to be determined.
- Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810) For the first time the Court struck down a State law as unconstitutional. A State legislature (in this case, Georgia) can repeal a previous, corruptly made law (in this case, a land grant), but not void valid contracts made under this law.
- 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.
- Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833) The United States Bill of Rights can't be applied to state governments.
- Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. (4 Wall.) 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 Fourteenth Amendment protects only the "privileges or immunities" conferred by virtue of the federal United States citizenship to all individuals of all states within it, but not those privileges or immunities incident to citizenship of a state.
- The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900) Ruled that federal courts could look to customary international law because it is an integrated part of American law.
- Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (1903) Congress has the power to break treaties with the Indian tribes without judicial review, the plenary power doctrine.
- Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), asserted that the "right to free contract" or "liberty of contract" is implicit in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), The First Amendment provisions protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press apply not only to the Federal Government, but also to the governments of the individual states by the Fourteenth Amendment.
- 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), While the Constitution does not explicitly say that all ability to conduct foreign policy is vested in the President, it is nonetheless given implicitly and by the fact that the executive, by its very nature, is empowered to conduct foreign affairs in a way that Congress cannot and should not. The President has "plenary" powers in the foreign affairs field that is not dependent upon congressional delegation.
- Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1937) A proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution is considered pending before the states indefinitely unless Congress establishes a deadline by which the states must act. Further, Congress—not the courts—is responsible for deciding whether an amendment has been validly ratified.
- Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938) Federal courts do not have the power to create general federal common law when hearing state law claims under diversity jurisdiction (led to the development of the Erie doctrine).
- International Shoe 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 of the United States can't seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the United States Constitution or statutory authority conferred on him by Congress.
- Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957), The U.S. Constitution supersedes all treaties ratified by the United States Senate.
- Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1959) State courts do not have jurisdiction on Indian reservations without Congressional authorization, to allow state infringement undermines tribal sovereignty.
- Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962) The reapportionment of state legislative districts is not a political question, and is justiciable by the federal courts.
- Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964) The Constitution requires that members of the House of Representatives be selected by districts composed, as nearly as is practicable, of equal population.
- Reynolds v. Sims, 337 U.S. 533 (1964) A complimentary case on Baker v. Carr, which stated that districts must be of as equal population as mathematically possible, so as to ensure equal protection. This case also applied to districts in the federal House of Representatives.
- Menominee Tribe v. United States, 391 U.S. 404 (1968) Native American treaty rights are not abrogated without a clear and unequivocal statement by Congress and that statutes and treaties are to be construed liberally in favor of the tribe.
- Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970) Entitlement programs such as welfare conferred property rights on recipients, and their termination required procedural due process.
- San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) use of property tax as means 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.
- Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) Established test for deciding what process is due when procedural due process applies that balances (1) the government's interests, (2) the individual's interest, and (3) the likelihood of making an inaccurate decision using the existing procedures and probable value of additional procedural safeguards.
- Nixon v. General Services Administration, 433 U.S. 425 (1977) Congress has the power to pass an act directing the seizure and disposition, within the control of the Executive Branch, of the papers and tapes of a former president.
- 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), making of individual copies of complete television shows for purposes of time-shifting does not constitute copyright infringement, but is fair use.
- Selle v. Gibb, 741 U.S. 896 (1984), the doctrine of striking similarities is not enough in the absence of proof of access. Evidence of access must extend beyond mere speculation.
- Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991), originality, not sweat of the brow, is the touchstone of copyright protection.
- Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) expert evidence must be generally accepted in the scientific community (Daubert standard).
- Nobleman v. American Savings Bank, 508 U.S. 324 (1993) disallowed the use of cram downs for primary residences.
- Breard v. Greene, 523 U.S. 371 (1998), rejected jurisdiction of International Court of Justice in a capital punishment case dealing with a citizen of Paraguay.
- Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), ended the recount of ballots in Florida in the 2000 presidential election as violative of the Equal Protection Clause, effectively resolving the election in favor of George W. Bush.
- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), The executive branch alone does not have the power to designate people as “enemy combatants” and then use that designation as a reason to hold them indefinitely without due process.
- Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466 (2004), 542 U.S. 466 The U.S. court system has the authority to decide whether foreign nationals (non-U.S. citizens) held in Guantanamo Bay were wrongfully imprisoned.
- Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), upheld power of a local government to seize property for economic development purposes.
- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), Military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay are illegal and lack the protections required under the Geneva Conventions and United States Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), foreign terrorism suspects have constitutional rights to challenge their detention at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in United States courts.
- Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, 569 U.S. 12-398 (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.
- Hailey Branson-Potts, Emily Foxhall and Christine Mai-Duc (1 July 2013). "Gay couples rush to marry across California". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
- 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". U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (via the Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved July 15, 2013.
- Mukasey, Marc L.; Jonathan N. Halpern, Floren J. Taylor, Katherine M. Sullivan, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP (June 21, 2013). "Salinas v. Texas: Your Silence May Be Used Against You Re: U.S. Supreme Court Litigation". The National Law Review.
- Cohen, Andrew (22 October 2013). "At Last, the Supreme Court Turns to Mental Disability and the Death Penalty". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 October 2013.