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 precedent or concept. They can also substantially change the interpretation of existing law. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way:

In the United States, landmark court decisions come most frequently from the Supreme Court. Sometimes United States courts of appeals make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case or if it adopts the holding of the lower court. Although many cases from state supreme courts are significant in developing the law of that state, only a few are so radically different that they announce standards that many other state courts then choose to follow.

6-year-old Ruby Bridges goes to a previously all-white school in 1960 (protected by U.S. Marshals) after Brown v. Board of Education (1955)
Korematsu v. U.S. (1944) ruled that sending Japanese Americans to camps like this one was constitutional

Individual rights[change | change source]

Discrimination based on race or ethnicity[change | change source]

The Supreme Court has dealt with many cases of discrimination based on race or ethnicity. This is a partial list of such cases.

Basic rights[change | change source]

States in red on this map still had laws against inter-racial marriage until Loving v. Virginia (1967)[a]

Segregation (public transportation)[change | change source]

Browder v. Gayle made segregated bus lines like this one unconstitutional

Segregation (housing)[change | change source]

Segregation (schools)[change | change source]

Educational segregation in the U.S. before Brown

Voting rights[change | change source]

Other issues[change | change source]

Discrimination based on sexual orientation[change | change source]

Outside the Supreme Court, James Obergefell (with green folder) reacts to the Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges

Birth control and abortion[change | change source]

End of life[change | change source]

Power of Congress to enforce civil rights[change | change source]

President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with Martin Luther King, Jr. behind him. Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. expanded the law's protections

General rights and freedoms[change | change source]

Basic rights[change | change source]

Beys Afroyim with his son. Afroyim v. Rusk protects citizenship rights

Citizenship rights[change | change source]

Freedom to travel[change | change source]

Military-related[change | change source]

  • Ex parte Milligan, 71 U.S. 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.
  • Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1 (1957) United States citizens abroad, even when associated with the military, cannot be deprived of the protections of the Constitution and cannot be made subject to military jurisdiction.

Other issues[change | change source]

Criminal law[change | change source]

Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures[change | change source]

Right to an attorney[change | change source]

Other rights regarding counsel[change | change source]

  • 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[change | change source]

Competence[change | change source]

Detainment of terrorism suspects[change | change source]

Capital punishment[change | change source]

Other criminal sentences[change | change source]

  • 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.
  • 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. ___ (2012) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.

Federalism[change | change source]

Unconstitutional laws[change | change source]

Quote from Justice John Marshall, explaining "judicial review" in Marbury v. Madison (1803), carved on the wall of the Supreme Court Building

State powers[change | change source]

Limits on state powers[change | change source]

The hand-written decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which said states could not tax the federal government

Federal judiciary powers[change | change source]

Federal Congressional powers[change | change source]

The Old Royal Exchange building in New York City, where the Supreme Court first met in 1790
The Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, where the Court met from 1819–1860

Notes[change | change source]

  1. States in yellow repealed their anti-miscegenation laws between 1948-1967; states in green repealed theirs between 1780-1887; and states in gray never had these laws.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Dred Scott v. Sanford". Oyez. Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  2. Lawrence K. Furbish (25 September 1996). "OLR Research Report". The Connecticut General Assembly. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  3. "Korematsu v. United States (1944)". PBS/Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  4. "Hernandez v. Texas". IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  5. "First Amendment Timeline" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  6. "Loving v. Virginia: The Case over Interracial Marriage". American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  7. "Plessy v. Ferguson – Case Brief Summary". Lawnix. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  8. Cristina Vignone. "History of the Civil Rights Movement: Boynton v. Virginia". Fordham University. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Brown v. Board of Education (1954)". PBS/ Educational Broadcasting Corporation. December 2006. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  10. "Landmark: Smith v. Allwright". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  11. "Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health". 6 November 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  12. "United States v. Windsor". Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  13. Marci A. Hamilton (28 June 2013). "How to Read United States v. Windsor to Understand What Gay Couples Won This Week, But Why They Still Have a Long Way to Go". Justia. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Obergefell v. Hodges". IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  15. Mark Kogan (22 January 2013). "Roe v. Wade: A Simple Explanation Of the Most Important SCOTUS Decision in 40 Years". Mic Network Inc. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  16. "Roe v. Wade (1973)". PBS/Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  17. "Afroyim v. Rusk". Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  18. 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.
  19. Laura Langer, Judicial Review in State Supreme Courts: A Comparative Study (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), p. 4