List of landmark court decisions in the United States

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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, such as in Smith v. Collin. 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.

Individual rights[edit]

Discrimination based on race and ethnicity[edit]

Discrimination based on sex[edit]

Discrimination based on sexual orientation[edit]

Birth control and abortion[edit]

End of life[edit]

Power of Congress to enforce civil rights[edit]

Other areas[edit]

Criminal law[edit]

Fourth Amendment Rights: Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures[edit]

Right to an attorney[edit]

Other rights regarding counsel[edit]

  • 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[edit]


Detainment of terrorism suspects[edit]

Capital punishment[edit]

Other criminal sentences[edit]

  • Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) Mandatory state sentencing guidelines are the statutory maximum for purposes of applying the Apprendi rule.
  • Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (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. 460 (2012) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.


First Amendment rights[edit]

Freedom of speech and of the press[edit]

Freedom of religion[edit]

Freedom of association[edit]

Freedom of petition[edit]

Second Amendment rights[edit]

Third Amendment rights[edit]

  • Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982) While not a Supreme Court case, this is the only case to have been heard by a federal appeals court based on Third Amendment claims. The ruling is notable for three important findings regarding the Third Amendment: 1) members of the National Guard are "soldiers" within the context of the Third Amendment; 2) the Third Amendment is incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment; and 3) the "house[s]" which are protected by the Third Amendment are not limited solely to those arising out of fee simple ownership but extend to those recognized and permitted by society as founded on lawful occupation or possession with a legal right to exclude others.

Other areas[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hartman, G. R., Mersky, R. M., & Tate, C. L. (2004). Landmark Supreme Court cases: The most influential decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Facts on File. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-8160-2452-0.
  2. ^ 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" (PDF). United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (via the Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  3. ^ Brossard, Dominique; Shanahan, James; Clint Nesbitt, T. (2007). The Media, the Public and Agricultural Biotechnology. ISBN 9781845932039.
  4. ^ "Diamond v. Chakrabarty: A Retrospective on 25 Years of Biotech Patents" (PDF).
  5. ^ Supreme Court Decision on Justia