Important Supreme Court Decisions

The New York Public Library Desk Reference, pp. 365-366.

1803 Marbury v. Madison
For the first time, the Supreme Court ruled an act of Con­gress unconstitutional, es­tab­lish­ing the prin­ci­ple of ju­di­cial review.

1819 McCullock v. Maryland
The Court’s ruling upheld the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the cre­ation of the Bank of the United States and denied to the states the power to tax such an in­sti­tu­tion because, as Justice John Mar­shall put it, “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”

1819 Trustees of Dart­mouth College v. Woodward
The Court ruled that a state could not ar­bi­trar­ily alter the terms of a contract. Al­though this case applied to a college, its im­pli­ca­tions widened in later years when the same prin­ci­ple was used to limit states’ ability to in­ter­fere with busi­ness contracts.

1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford
The Mis­souri Com­pro­mise was de­clared un­con­sti­tu­tional because it de­prived a person of his prop­erty (a slave) without due process of law. This was only the second time that the Court had as­serted the power of ju­di­cial review. The de­ci­sion also stated that slaves are not cit­i­zens of any state or of the United States

1877 Munn v. Illinois
States were allowed to reg­u­late busi­nesses when “a public interest” was involved. This prin­ci­ple was weak­ened by rulings in other cases in the late nine­teenth century.

1895 U.S. v. E.C. Knight Co.
In stating that man­u­fac­tur­ing and com­merce are not connected, and that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act could not be applied to manufacturers, the Court se­ri­ously im­paired the government’s ability to reg­u­late monopolies.

1896 Plessy v. Ferguson
The Supreme Court ruled that state laws en­forc­ing seg­re­ga­tion by race are con­sti­tu­tional if ac­com­mo­da­tions are equal as well as separate. Sub­se­quently over­turned by Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Topeka.

1904 Northern Se­cu­ri­ties Co. v. U.S.
The High Court backed gov­ern­ment action against big busi­nesses that re­strained trade, in effect, putting teeth in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

1908 Muller v. Oregon
The Court ruled that a state could leg­is­late maximum working hours based on ev­i­dence com­plied by at­tor­ney Louis Brandeis.

1911 Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey Et Al. v. U.S.
The Court dis­solved the Stan­dard Oil Trust not because of its size but because of its un­rea­son­able re­straint of trade. The prin­ci­ple in­volved is called “the rule of reason.”

1919 Schenck v. U.S.
The Court upheld the World War I Es­pi­onage Act. In a land­mark de­ci­sion dealing with free speech, Justice Oliver W. Holmes said that a person who en­cour­ages draft re­sis­tance during a war is a “clear and present danger.”

1935 Schechter v. U.S.
In­val­i­dat­ing the Na­tional In­dus­trial Re­cov­ery Act of the New Deal, the Court de­clared that Con­gress could not del­e­gate its powers to the President.

1951 Dennis Et Al. v. U.S.
The Supreme Court ruled the 1946 Smit Act constitutional; the act made it a crime to ad­vo­cate the over­throw of the gov­ern­ment by force. In its 1957 Yates v. U.S. decision, the Court tem­pered this ruling by per­mit­ting such ad­vo­cacy in the ab­stract if it is not con­nected to action to achieve this goal.

1954 Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Topeka
In an example of so­ci­o­log­i­cal jurisprudence, the Court held un­con­sti­tu­tional laws en­forc­ing seg­ra­gated schools; it called for de­seg­re­ga­tion of schools “with all de­lib­er­ate speed.”

1957 Roth v. U.S.
The ruling based ob­scen­ity de­ci­sions on whether a pub­li­ca­tion appeals to “prurient interests.” The Court also said that obscene ma­te­r­ial is that which lacks any “redeeming social importance.”

1961 Mapp v. Ohio
The High Court ex­tended the federal ex­clu­sion­ary rule to the states; this rule pre­vented pros­e­cu­tors from using il­le­gally ob­tained ev­i­dence in a crim­i­nal trial.

1962 Baker v. Carr
The Court held that state leg­is­la­tures must be ap­por­tioned to provide equal pro­tec­tion under the law (Fourteenth Amendment). A follow-up de­ci­sion applied the same prin­ci­ple to the size of con­gres­sional districts, in­sist­ing that they be ap­prox­i­mately equal in population.

1966 Miranda v. Arizona
The case de­clared that before ques­tion­ing suspects, police must inform them of their right to remain silent, that any state­ments they make can be used against them, and that they have the right to remain silent until they have an attorney, which the state will provide if they cannot afford to pay.

1972 Furman v. Georgia
The Court found un­con­sti­tu­tional all death penalty statues then in force in the states, but held out the pos­si­bil­ity that if they were rewrit­ten so as to be less sub­jec­tive and ran­domly imposed, they might be con­sti­tu­tional (as the Court has sub­se­quently held in many instances).

1973 Roe v. Wade
The Court ruled state anti-abortion laws unconstitutional, except as they apply to the last trimester of pregnancy.

1978 University of Cal­i­for­nia v. Bakke
The ruling allowed a uni­ver­sity to admit stu­dents on the basis of race if the school’s aim is to combat discrimination. Sub­se­quent de­ci­sions of the Court have filled in the details of how gov­ern­ment and busi­ness may use quotas to make up for past racism.

1986 Bowers v. Hardwick
In a case in­volv­ing en­force­ment of Georgia’s law against sodomy, the Court ruled that states have the power to reg­u­late sexual re­la­tions in private between con­sent­ing adults.

A similar, more de­tailed list of important Supreme Court Cases.