Significant Supreme Court Cases

The Supreme Court of the United States decides several court cases each session. Most of these cases are not major cases. However, the Supreme Court has ruled on several cases that have radically changed the course of American history.

1803 Marbury v. Madison

This case originated as a dispute between James Madison and William Marbury concerning the delivery of papers appointing Marbury as a justice of the peace. The case involved the Judiciary Act of 1789. The importance of this case was not the case itself but the principle that came from the decision. For the first time, the Court ruled that an act of Congress was unconstitutional and stated that the Court had the power of judicial review.

1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford

Dred Scott was a slave who was brought by his master to a free area. Scott believed that since the law barred slavery in the territories, he should be a free man. The Supreme Court ruled that slaves were not citizens of the United States, but they were classified as property. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the federal government did not have the power to abolish slavery in the territories.

1896 Plessy v. Ferguson

The state of Louisiana passed a law requiring separate railway cars for black and white passengers. Homer Plessy challenged the law. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state and established the separate but equal principle thus making racial segregation the law of the land.

1954 Brown v. Board of Education

The public schools in Topeka, Kansas were racially segregated. A group of parents challenged segregation. The Court unanimously ruled that racial segregation in schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The Court reversed Plessy v. Ferguson. The case was a major victory in the history of civil rights.

1966 Miranda v. Arizona

In 1963, Mr. Miranda was arrested on the charges of rape and kidnapping. He was questioned by police, and he signed a confession. He was not advised of his right to remain silent nor of his right to an attorney. Miranda was convicted. On appeal, Miranda’s attorney asked the court to overturn the conviction. The Court ruled that statements made by a person in custody are not admissible unless the person is advised of their right to remain silent and of their right to an attorney before questioning begins.

1973 Roe v. Wade

In 1969, Norma McCorvey sought to have an abortion in the state of Texas, but she was barred by Texas law. She brought a case against the state. The Supreme Court ruled that individuals have a fundamental right to privacy granted by the US Constitution. The Court legalized abortion in all 50 states allowing the individual states to restrict abortion in only limited circumstances.

2003 Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger

These two cases dealt with the issue of the use of affirmative action in the admission process in the University of Michigan system. The Court ruled that the school could use race and ethnicity as a factor in individual admissions to the school as long as certain criteria were met.