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List of landmark court decisions in the United States

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The following landmark court decisions in the United States contains landmark court decisions which changed the interpretation of existing law in the United States. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way:

  • establishing a significant new legal principle or concept;
  • overturning prior precedent based on its negative effects or flaws in its reasoning;
  • 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. 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 or gender identity[edit]

Power of Congress to enforce civil rights[edit]

Immunity from civil rights violations[edit]

Birth control and abortion[edit]

End of life[edit]


Freedom of movement[edit]

Restrictions on involuntary commitment[edit]

  • Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972) A state violates due process by involuntarily committing a criminal defendant for an indefinite period of time solely on the basis of his or her permanent incompetency to stand trial on the charges filed against him or her.
  • O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975) A state cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.
  • Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979) Clear and convincing evidence is required by the Fourteenth Amendment in a civil proceeding brought under state law to commit an individual involuntarily for an indefinite period to a state mental hospital.
  • Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982) Involuntarily committed residents have protected liberty interests under the Due Process Clause to reasonably safe conditions of confinement, freedom from unreasonable bodily restraints, and such minimally adequate training as reasonably may be required by these interests.

Public health and safety[edit]

Other areas[edit]

Criminal law[edit]

Fourth Amendment rights[edit]

Right to counsel[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]


  • 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.
  • Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003) The Supreme Court laid down four criteria for cases involving the involuntary administration of medication to an incompetent pretrial defendant.
  • Kahler v. Kansas, 589 U.S. ___ (2020) The Constitution's Due Process Clause does not necessarily compel the acquittal of any defendant who, because of mental illness, could not tell right from wrong when committing their crime.

Detention of terrorism suspects[edit]

Capital punishment[edit]

Other criminal sentences[edit]

  • Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972) The Supreme Court extended Fourteenth Amendment due process protection to the parole revocation process, hold that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a "neutral and detached" hearing body such as a parole board to give an evidentiary hearing prior to revoking the parole of a defendant and spelled out the minimum due process requirements for the revocation hearing.
  • Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973) The Supreme Court issued a substantive ruling regarding the rights of individuals in violation of a probation or parole sentence. It held that a previously sentenced probationer is entitled to a hearing when his probation is revoked. More specifically the Supreme Court held that a preliminary and final revocation of probation hearings are required by Due Process; the judicial body overseeing the revocation hearings shall determine if the probationer or parolee requires counsel; denying representation of counsel must be documented in the record of the Court.
  • Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974) In administrative proceedings regarding discipline, prisoners retain some of their due process rights. When a prison disciplinary hearing might result in the loss of good-time credits, due process requires that the prison notify the prisoner in advance of the hearing, afford him an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense, and furnish him with a written statement of the evidence relied on and the reason for the disciplinary action.
  • Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983) A sentencing court cannot properly revoke a defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine and make restitution, absent evidence and findings that he was somehow responsible for the failure or that alternative forms of punishment were inadequate to meet the State's interest in punishment and deterrence.
  • 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.
  • Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) The Sixth Amendment right to jury trial is read as requiring a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense and is an incorporated right to the states.

Other areas[edit]


Native American law[edit]

First Amendment rights[edit]

General aspects[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) Members of the National Guard qualify as "soldiers" under the Third Amendment. The Third Amendment is incorporated against the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And the protection of the Third Amendment applies to anyone who, within their residence, has a legal expectation of privacy and a legal right to exclude others from entry into the premises. This case is notable for being the only case based on Third Amendment claims that has been decided by a federal appeals court.

Fourteenth Amendment rights[edit]

Separation of powers[edit]

Administrative law[edit]

Executive power[edit]



Other areas[edit]

Voting and Redistricting[edit]

Takings Clause[edit]

  • Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954) Under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, private property can be taken for a public purpose as long as just compensation is paid.
  • Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978) Whether a regulatory action that diminishes the value of a claimant's property constitutes a "taking" of that property within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment depends on several factors, including the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant, particularly the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations, as well as the character of the governmental action.
  • Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council. 503 U.S. 1003 (1992) Established the "total takings" test, i.e. has the owner been deprived of all possible beneficial use of the property, in determining whether a regulation limiting use of the property constitutes a regulatory taking
  • Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994) A government agency may not take property in exchange for benefits that are unrelated to the agency's interest in the property.
  • Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., 544 U.S. 528 (2005) Contrary to the holding of Agins v. City of Tiburon, which held that a government regulation of private property effects a taking if such regulation does not substantially advance legitimate state interests, the test of whether a governmental regulation substantially advances a legitimate state interest is irrelevant to determining whether the regulation effects an uncompensated taking of private property in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
  • Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) Local governments may seize property for economic development purposes. Noted for converting the "public use" requirement of the Takings Clause to "public purpose."




See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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). Archived (PDF) from the original on August 3, 2019. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  2. ^ Sundara Rajan, Mira T. (2011). Moral Rights: Principles, Practice and New Technology. Oxford University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-19-539031-5.
  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). Archived (PDF) from the original on January 22, 2016. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  5. ^ "Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980)". Justia Law. Archived from the original on January 7, 2012. Retrieved July 30, 2023.