111 K Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
- Toll Free 1.888.564.6273
- Local 202.783.3870
The U.S. Supreme Court was established in 1789 and is the highest federal court in the nation. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, plus original jurisdiction over a small range of cases in which states are a party and those involving diplomats.
Marbury v. Madison: William Marbury and several others were appointed by Congress to government posts during the last days of John Adams’ presidency, but the appointments were not fully finalized. The appointees sued for their jobs.
The Supreme Court held that Marbury was entitled to his appointment, and that legislative acts in violation of the Constitution are void. Marbury v. Madison established judicial review under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the Supreme Court the power to review acts of Congress and declare them unconstitutional.Read the full decision here
McCulloch v. Maryland: Maryland passed a law imposing taxes on The Second Bank of the United States, and the cashier of the Baltimore branch refused to pay.
The Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the power to establish the bank and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers. The Court invoked the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I, ruling that Congress has implied powers not explicitly stated in the Constitution that are necessary for a functional government. This clause has been used as a justification for expanding government power beyond the original intent, and as a result, the burden of resisting that power is now on the individual.Read the full decision here
Gibbons v. Ogden: States granted rights to individuals to operate steamboats on waters, but some states required out-of-state boats to pay fees. Thomas Gibbons challenged the monopoly license granted by New York to Aaron Ogden.
The Supreme Court concluded that the New York law was invalid because the regulation of navigation for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to Congress. Gibbons v. Ogden is a landmark case due to the Court ruling that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.Read the full decision here
Dred Scott v. Sandford: Dred Scott resided in Illinois (a free state) and in an area of the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was forbidden by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott sued unsuccessfully for his freedom when he moved to Missouri.
The Supreme Court ruled the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and concluded that Dred Scott could not be a citizen of a state. In this landmark decision, the Court held that African Americans, whether free or not, could not be American citizens.Read the full decision here
The Slaughterhouse Cases: Louisiana created a partial monopoly of the slaughtering business and gave it to one company. Competitors argued that this created "involuntary servitude," abridged "privileges and immunities," denied "equal protection of the laws," and deprived them of "liberty and property without due process of law."
In the first interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court upheld the state-sanctioned monopoly in Louisiana. The landmark Slaughterhouse Cases undermined economic freedom and violated the 14th Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause, which was designed to protect civil rights and natural rights against state and local government interference.Read the full decision here
Plessy v. Ferguson: Louisiana law required separate railway cars for blacks and whites. Homer Adolph Plessy was seven-eighths white and took a seat in a "whites only" railway car. He was arrested when he refused to move.
The Supreme Court upheld the law, justifying the decision on the doctrine of separate but equal. The Court argued that the 14th Amendment was satisfied with the separate facilities as long as the facilities were equal. The landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson legitimized segregation practices.Read the full decision here
Lochner v. New York: A New York statute prohibited bakers from working more than 60 hours a week or 10 hours a day.
The Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional for interfering with the freedom of contract. Lochner v. New York was a landmark decision that held that liberty of contract was implicit in the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. This case lends its name to the Lochner era that extended into the mid-1930s, which was a period when the Supreme Court struck down a number of laws infringing on economic freedom and property rights.Read the full decision here
Schenck v. United States: Schenck mailed anti-draft circulars to World War I draftees, encouraging peaceful resistance and the repeal of the Conscription Act. He was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.
The Supreme Court ruled against Schenck, concluding that certain peacetime speech is not tolerable during wartime if it creates a clear and present danger. This landmark case led to a series of wartime convictions, and the "clear and present danger" test became standard for addressing 1st Amendment questions. Stronger protections of free speech were established in the landmark case of Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969.Read the full decision here
Meyer v Nebraska: A number of states prohibited the teaching of modern foreign languages to grade school children. Meyer, a German teacher at a Lutheran school in Nebraska, was convicted under this law.
The Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional and a violation of the freedoms protected in the 14th Amendment. The Court held that infringements upon liberty must be reasonably related to a legitimate state interest. The purpose of the Nebraska law was the promotion of assimilation and civic development, but the Court concluded that these purposes were not adequate. This case is often cited as one of the first instances in which the Court engaged in substantive due process in the area of civil liberties.Read the full decision here
Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell: Minnesota's Mortgage Moratorium Law extended the time period in which borrowers could pay back their debts to lenders. The law was passed in 1933 in order to combat the economic difficulties posed by the Great Depression.
The Supreme Court upheld the law, concluding that the Contract Clause of the Constitution was not meant to be interpreted literally. The Court argued that the sanctity of contracts was not absolute, especially in times of emergency such as the Great Depression. This case is among the precedents that have diminished the constitutional protection of property rights.Read the full decision here
Humphrey's Executor v. United States: President Roosevelt fired the commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) because of his political positions. However, the FTC Act only allowed a president to remove a commissioner for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office."
The Supreme Court upheld the FTC Act as constitutional, concluding that a president can remove officers from "units of the executive department, but the FTC was created by Congress to perform quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial functions." This case provided the foundation for the expansion of the administrative state, which is responsible for regulations interfering with every aspect of life. The agencies that make up the administrative state often have executive, legislative, and judicial powers, violating the separation of powers principle enshrined in the Constitution that is necessary to limit tyranny.Read the full decision here
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation: The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gave the government power to regulate labor-management disputes. The National Labor Relations Board charged the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation with discrimination against union employees.
The Supreme Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act, concluding that industrial activities had the potential to restrict interstate commerce. The justices argued that collective bargaining among employees is "an essential condition of industrial peace." This decision ended the Court's overruling of New Deal economic legislation and expanded the government's power under the Commerce Clause.Read the full decision here
Steward Machine Company v. Davis: The Steward Machine Company challenged the validity of a tax imposed by the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act established a federal payroll tax on employers. However, if employers paid taxes to a state unemployment compensation fund, they were allowed to credit those payments toward the federal tax. The Steward Machine Company challenged the validity of the arbitrary tax.
The Supreme Court upheld the unemployment compensation provisions of the Social Security Act as a constitutional exercise of congressional power. This landmark decision established the expansion of congressional authority to regulate state activity, and it was part of a set of decisions in which the Court upheld New Deal economic and regulatory legislation.Read the full decision here
Wickard v. Filburn: The Department of Agriculture authorized the government to set production quotas for wheat during the Great Depression in order to drive up prices. Roscoe Filburn was penalized when he harvested extra wheat. He argued that the extra wheat production was not related to commerce since he grew it for his own use.
The Supreme Court ruled against Filburn's wheat production, concluding that it affected interstate commerce and could therefore be regulated by the federal government under the Commerce Clause. In Wickard v. Filburn, the Court recognized the power of government to regulate economic activity and greatly expanded the authority of Congress beyond what is defined in the Constitution.Read the full decision here
Korematsu v. United States: During World War II, the military had the authority under Executive Order 9066 to exclude citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to national defense. Japanese Americans were ordered into internment camps. Fred Korematsu remained in an area of California in violation of an order from the U.S. Army.
The Supreme Court sided with the government against Korematsu, concluding that the need to protect the country from espionage outweighed individual rights due to the circumstances of "emergency and peril." The landmark decision in Korematsu v. United States reveals the threat that war poses to individual rights. Governments frequently abuse their power in war by using "national security" as a justification. Such tendencies are even more concerning today, when the government can use the threat of terrorism or the "war on terror" to call for increased violations of constitutionally-protected rights.Read the full decision here
Brown v. Board of Education: Black children were denied admission to public schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race.
The Supreme Court ruled that the segregation violated equal protection laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. This landmark decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, rejecting the long-held doctrine that separate facilities were permissible as long as they were equal, and thus declaring state-maintained racial segregation unconstitutional.Read the full decision here
Berman v. Parker: Congress passed the District of Columbia Redevelopment Act, which gave eminent domain power to the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency. The agency identified blighted areas, seized property with just compensation, and redeveloped the areas. Owners of a targeted department store challenged the Act.
The Supreme Court upheld the Act, concluding that Congress alone has the power to determine what to consider when seizing private property. This landmark decision laid the foundation for subsequent cases where private property has been taken with "just" compensation. In Kelo v. City of New London in 2005, the Court extended this ruling to allow takings of unblighted private property solely for economic development purposes.Read the full decision here
Mapp v. Ohio: Police illegally searched Dollree Mapp’s home for a fugitive and convicted Mapp of possessing obscene materials. Mapp appealed on the basis of freedom of expression.
Rather than deciding on the 1st Amendment freedom of expression issue brought forward by Mapp, the Supreme Court declared that “all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by [the 4th Amendment], inadmissible in a state court.” This historic decision required the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence in state courts. Prior to this decision, the exclusionary rule only applied at the federal level and had been rejected by most states.Read the full decision here
Griswold v. Connecticut: The Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut gave information and medical advice to married couples concerning birth control. Connecticut law criminalized this behavior.
The Supreme Court rejected the Connecticut law as null and void, concluding that the Constitution guarantees a right to privacy through the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 9th Amendments. Since this landmark decision, the Court has cited the right to privacy in a number of rulings.Read the full decision here
Miranda v. Arizona: The Supreme Court was called upon to consider the constitutionality of suspects questioned without being notified of their right to counsel.
The Supreme Court held that prosecutors could not use statements from interrogations unless procedural safeguards were used. The justices outlined the right to remain silent and the right to have counsel present during interrogations. This case had a significant impact on law enforcement by making the Miranda rights part of routine police procedure to ensure that suspects were fully aware of their constitutional rights.Read the full decision here
Terry v. Ohio: Terry and two other men were observed by a police officer in what the officer believed to be "casing a job, a stick-up." The officer frisked them and convicted two of them of carrying a concealed weapon.
The Supreme Court concluded that the search was reasonable, limited in scope, and designed to protect the officer's safety. In this landmark case, the Court held that the 4th Amendment is not violated when an officer frisks a suspect without probable cause to arrest if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the suspect may be armed and has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. This type of search is frequently referred to as a Terry frisk.Read the full decision here
Brandenburg v. Ohio: A leader in the Ku Klux Klan was convicted under an Ohio law that made it illegal to advocate "crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform," as well as to assemble "with an society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism."
The Supreme Court held that the Ohio law was unconstitutional. The Court used a two-pronged test: speech can be prohibited if it is (1) "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and (2) it is "likely to incite or produce such action." This case established stronger speech protections and clarified the standard established by Schenck v. United States (1919).Read the full decision here
New York Times Co. v. United States: The Nixon Administration attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the then-classified Pentagon Papers on U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The President argued that publishing the documents posed a national security threat.
The Supreme Court ruled that restricting the publication of the information violated the 1st Amendment. Since the publication of the material in question would not cause direct and immediate events that would affect the safety of American troops, the President overstepped his powers. The Court ultimately decided that the constitutional freedom of the press was not subordinate to the executive branch's claimed need to maintain the secrecy of information.Read the full decision here
United States v. U.S. District Court: Three people were suspected of conspiring to destroy government property. Officials used electronic surveillance to record their conversations during investigations.
In this landmark case, the Supreme Court held that a warrant is necessary prior to engaging in electronic surveillance, even if domestic security issues are involved.Read the full decision here
Buckley v. Valeo: Congress passed legislation setting limits on the amount of money an individual could contribute to a single campaign and requiring reporting of contributions above a certain amount. The Federal Election Commission was created to enforce the law.
The Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on individual contributions did not violate the 1st Amendment since they guard against corruption. The Court also found that restrictions of independent expenditures in campaigns, expenditures by candidates from their own resources, and total campaign expenditures did violate the 1st Amendment because they did not serve a government interest. This landmark decision set the stage for a number of significant cases related to campaign finance including Citizens United v. FEC in 2010.Read the full decision here
Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York: Under the New York City Landmarks Preservation Law, the city had the power to designate certain structures and neighborhoods as landmarks or landmark sites. As a result, Penn Central was not allowed to construct a multistory office building above the Grand Central Terminal that the company owned.
In what is widely considered the most important modern case on regulatory takings, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, concluding that the restriction imposed upon the company was reasonable and related to the general welfare of the city. The justices declined to explain what constitutes a regulatory taking, ruling that the decision is made ad hoc on the basis of the facts in each case.Read full decision here
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke: Allan Bakke was denied admission to the UC Davis Medical School twice. The school reserved sixteen spots in each class for minorities, and Bakke's GPA and test scores exceeded those of the accepted minority students.
The Supreme Court ordered the medical school to admit Bakke. In this landmark case, the Court upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions decisions, but ruled that the use of rigid quotas is not permissible.Read the full decision here
Lawrence and Garner v. Texas: Lawrence and Garner were convicted of violating a Texas statute that forbid two people of the same sex from engaging in certain sexual conduct. The two men were arrested when police entered Lawrence's apartment in response to a reported weapons disturbance. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, concluding that the Texas statute was not unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Texas statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. According to Justice Kennedy, the statute does not further a legitimate government interest that can justify the intrusion. In this landmark decision, the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by extension, made same-sex sexual activity legal in every U.S. state and territory.Read the full decision here
Kelo v. City of New London: The city of New London, Connecticut seized private property to sell to private developers, claiming that the development would create jobs and increase tax revenue. The property owners sued the city, arguing that taking the property to sell to private developers was not public use and therefore violated the 5th Amendment's takings clause.
The Supreme Court ruled that the city's taking qualified as public use because, even though the land was not going to be used by the public, the city had an economic development plan and was not trying to benefit a certain group of private individuals. According to the Court, the 5th Amendment did not require "literal" public use, but the "broader and more natural interpretation of public use as public purpose." In this landmark case, the Court ruled that the government can transfer property from one private owner to another private owner for economic development purposes.Read the full decision here
District of Columbia v. Heller: D.C. passed legislation banning the registration of handguns, requiring licenses for all pistols, and mandating that all legal firearms be kept unloaded and disassembled or trigger locked. A group of private gun-owners sued the city.
The Supreme Court held that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to possess arms unconnected with service in a militia, and to use them in lawful ways such as self-defense within the home. This landmark case was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. This ruling was extended to the states in the landmark case of McDonald v. Chicago in 2010.Read the full decision here
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: Citizens United sought an injunction against the Federal Election Commission to prevent the application of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to its film about Hillary Clinton's presidential potential. The District Court denied the injunction.
The Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. The Court also upheld disclosure requirements, which are justified by a "governmental interest." It also upheld the ban on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions. This decision followed a line of similar cases such as Buckley v. Valeo, ruling that spending money is a form of speech.Read the full decision here
McDonald v. Chicago: Following the Supreme Court's landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, several suits were filed to challenge gun bans in Illinois cities. The plaintiffs argued that the 2nd Amendment should also apply to the states. Their suit was dismissed by the District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, concluding that the 2nd Amendment applies to the states through the 14th Amendment. This landmark decision cleared up the uncertainty left by the Court's ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller as to the scope of gun rights in regard to the states.Read the full decision here
National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius: Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which contained a minimum coverage provision by amending the tax code and providing an individual mandate. By 2014, non-exempt individuals who failed to purchase the minimum level of insurance must pay a penalty. The ACA also contained an expansion of Medicaid, which states had to accept in order to receive federal Medicaid funds, and an employer mandate to provide coverage for employees. Shortly after passage, 13 states brought actions seeking a declaration that the ACA was unconstitutional on several grounds: (1) the individual mandate exceeded Congress' enumerated powers under the Commerce Clause; (2) the Medicaid expansions were unconstitutionally coercive; and (3) the employer mandate interfered with state sovereignty. These states were joined by 13 more states and the National Federation of Independent Business.
The Supreme Court concluded that the individual mandate is a tax for the purposes of the Constitution's Taxing and Spending Clause and is a valid exercise of congressional authority. The Court also ruled that the Medicaid expansion provisions are unconstitutionally coercive as written because Congress does not have authority to threaten the states with complete loss of federal funding of Medicaid if the states refuse to comply. The landmark decision resulted in the Court upholding most provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.Read the full decision here