Smith v. Allwright (1944)
The denying of African Americans the right to vote in a primary election was found to be a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Wesberry v. Sanders (1936)
Ordered House districts to be near as equal as possible--enshrined the principle of "one man, one vote."
Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
The court rule that giving money to a political campaign was a form of free speech and threw out some stringent federal regulations on fund-raising and election spending.
Shaw v. Reno (1993)/Miller v. Johnson (1995)
Race cannot be the sole or predominant factor in redrawing legislative district boundaries.
Bush v. Gore (2000)
Florida recount in the election of 2000 was ruled to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.
Schenck v. United States (1919)
This case, decided by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, established that speech which evokes "a clear and present danger" is not permissible. He famously used the example of someone falsely used the example of someone falsely yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater as an example.
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
This case created the "Bad Tendency Doctrine," which held that speech could be restricted even if it only has a tendency to lead to illegal action. Though this element of the decision was quite restrictive, Gitlow also selectively incorporated freedom of speech to state governments.
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
Students in an Iowa school were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam war. The Court ruled that this suspension was unconstitutional, and that public school students do not "shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door."
Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)
This case gave public school officials the authority to suspend students for speech considered to be lewd or indecent.
Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988)
In this much-publicized case, the Court held that intentional infliction of emotional distress was permissible First Amendment speech--so long as such speech was about a pubic official, and could not reasonably be construed to state actual facts about its subject.
Texas v. Johnson (1989)
Established that burning the American flag is an example of permissible free speech, and struck down numerous anti-flag burning laws.
Morse v. Frederick (2007)
This case was known as the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, in which the Supreme Court limited students' free speech rights. The justices ruled that Frederick'as free speech rights were not violated by his suspension over what the majority's written opinion called a "sophomoric" banner.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)
The case established that corporations have a First Amendment right to expressly support political candidates for Congress and the White House.
Miller v. California (1973)
Established a three-part obscenity test"
1. Would the average person, applying community standards, judge the work as appealing primarily to people's baser sexual instincts?
2. Does the work lack other value, or is it also of literary, artistic, political, or scientific interest?
3. Does the work depict sexual behavior in an offensive manner?
Near v. Minnesota (1931)
Established that state injunctions to prevent publication violate the free press provision of the First Amendment and are unconstitutional. This case is important in that it selectively incorporates freedom of the press and prevents prior restraint.
New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
If a newspaper prints an article that turns out to be false but that the newspaper thought was true at the time of publication, the newspaper has not committed libel.
New York Times v. U.S. (1971)
When Defense Department employee Daniel Ellsburg leaked some confidential files indicating that the war in Vietnam was going poorly, the government sought to prevent the publication of these "Pentgon Papers" by the New York Times. In this case, the Court held that executive efforts to prevent the publication violated the First Amendment were forbidden.
Hazelwood School v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
The Court held that school officials have sweeping authority to regulate free speech in student run newspapers.
Cox v. New Hampshire (1941)
When a group of Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested for marching in New Hampshire without a permit, they claimed that permits themselves were an unconstitutional abridgment of their First Amendment freedoms. The Court held that cities and towns could legitimately require parade permits in the interest of public order.
Lloyd Corporation v. Tanner (1972)
This case allowed the owners of a shopping mall to throw out people protesting the Vietnam War. The key element here is that malls are private spaces, not public. As a result, protesters have substantially fewer assembly rights in malls and other private establishments.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)
Private organizations' First Amendment right of expressive association allows them to choose their own membership and expel members based o their sexual orientation even if such discrimination would otherwise be prohibited by anti-discrimination legislation designed to protect minorities in public accommodations. As a result of this case, the Boy Scouts of America were allowed to expel any member who was discovered to be homosexual.
Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)
This case dealt with state laws intending to give money to religious schools or causes. The Court held that in order to be consistent with the Establishment Clause, the money had to meet three qualifications: (1) it must have a legitimate secular purpose, (2) it must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) it must not result in an excessive entanglemebnt of government and religion. These qualifications are known as the "Lemon Test."
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
This landmark case prohibited state-sponsered recitation of prayer in public schools.
Abington School District v. Schempp (1963)
Given the Court's ruling in Engel, it's not surprising that in Abington they decided that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment forbids state-mandated reading of the Bible, or recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools.
Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
In line with the Establishment Clause, Epperson prohibited states from banning the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
This case dealt with the Amish community's desire to pull their children from public school before the age of 16 so that they could help with farm and domestic work. The Court sided with the Amish and held that parents may remove children from public school for relgious reasons.
Employment Division v. Smith (1990)
This case determined that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. In short, states may accommodate otherwise illegal acts done in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so.
Weeks v. United States (1914)
Though the Constitution is unequivocal when it forbids unlawful search and seizure, such ill-gotten evidence was still commonly used to prosecute defendants. Weeks established the exclusionary rule, which held that illegally obtained evidence could not be used in federal court.
Powell v. Alabama (1932)
The Constitution is clear in the Sixth Amendment when it guarantees all those accused of a federal crime the right to have a lawyer. But what about those accused of state crimes? Should they get a lawyer if they can't afford one? The Court ruled that state governments must provide counsel in cases involving the death penalty to those who can't afford it.
Betts v. Brady (1942)
The Betts case established that state governments did not have to provide lawyers to indigent defendants in capital cases.
Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
By 1961, the exclusionary rule meant that any unlawfully gathered evidence could not be introduced in federal court, but such evidence was introduced all the time in state courts. The Mapp case extended the exclusionary rule to the states, increasing the protections for defendants.
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
This was a powerful repudiation of Betts v. Brady. Here, the Warren court strongly holds that all state governments must provide an attorney in all cases for those who can't afford one.
Escobedo v. Illnois (1964)
Escobedo is another important Warren Court decision. Here, the Court held that any defendant who asked for a lawyer had to have one granted to him--or any confession garnered after that point would be inadmissible in court.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
Miranda is the most dramatic and well-known of the Warren Court decisions. The court found that all defendants must be informed of all their legal rights before they are arrested.
Furman v. Georgia (1972)
Here, the court looked at the patchwork quilt of nationwide capital punishment decisions and found that its imposition was often racist and arbitrary. In Furman, the Court ordered a halt to all death penalty punishments in the nation until a less arbitrary method of sentencing was found.
Woodson v. North Carolina (1976)
North Carolina tried to satisfy the Court's requirement that the imposition of the death penalty not be arbitrary--so they made it a mandatory punishment for certain crimes. The Court rejected this approach and ruled mandatory death penalty sentences as unconstitutional.
Gregg v. Georgia (1976)
Georgia was finally able to convince the Court that it had come up with a careful and fair system for trying capital offenses. As a result, the Court ruled that under adequate guidelines the death penalty did not, in fact, constitute cruel and unusual punishment. thus Gregg allowed the resumption of the death penalty in America.
Atkins v. Virginia (2002)
Here, the United States lined up with most other nations in the world by forbidding the execution of defendants who are mentally handicapped.
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
The Constitution never explicitly grants Americans a right to privacy, but the Court discovers one in this landmark and controversial case. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas noted that amendments like the Third, Fourth, and Ninth all cast "penumbras and emanations" which showed that the Founders had really intended for a right to privacy all along.
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Though Roe is one of the most famous court cases in American history, legally it is really a subset of the Griswold decision. The court had already done the heavy lifting of discovering the right to privacy in the Constitution. As a result, in Roe they established national abortion guidelines by extending the inferred right of privacy from Griswold.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1987)
This case did not overturn Roe v. Wade, but it did give states more power to regulate abortion.
Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
With this ruling, the Supreme court struck down a sodomy law that had criminalized homosexual sex in Texas. The court has previously addressed the same issue in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), where it did not find consttutional protection of sexual privacy. Lawrence explicitly overruled Bowers saying that consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
This case famously allowed southern states to twist the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing "separate but equal" facilities based on race.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
In this landmark case, a unanimous court led by newly appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled the doctrine of "separate but equal" to be unconstitutional.
Brown v. Board 2nd (1955)
One year after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Warren Court saw that segregation was still ubiquitous. So in Brown II, they ordered schools to desegregate "with all due and deliberate speed."
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964)
The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated that places of public accommodation are prohibited from discrimination against African Americans.
Katzenbach v. McClung (1964)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public places, but what about in private businesses? The Katzenbach case established that the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce extends to state discrimination statutes. This ruling made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to virtually all businesses.
Regents of the Unversity of California v. Bakke (1978)
Alan Bakke was a white applicant who was rejected from medical school because of an affirmative action plan to boost the number of black students. The Court ruled that Bakke had been unfairly excluded and that quotas requiring a certain percentage of minorities violated the Fourteenth Amendment. But the Court also held that race-based affirmative action was permissible so long as it was in the service ocreating greater diversity.
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)/Gratz v. Bollinger (2003)
These cases involved the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Michigan undergraduate school. Both used affirmative action, but the undergraduate school did so by giving minority applicants a large boost in the score used by officers deciding on admission. The court threw out the undergraduate system of selection, but generally upheld Bakke.
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
This most important of all decisions established judicial review--the Supreme Court's power to strike down acts of United States Congress which conflict with the Constitution.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
This case is important because it established a precedent of federal courts using judicial review to strike down Congressional legislation.
South Dakota v. Dole (1987)
The federal government mandated the 21-year-old drinking age by threatening to withhold federal highway funds from all states that did not comply. In this case, such withholding was held to be constitutional.
United States v. Lopez (1995)
Congress had used the Commerce Clause to aggressively create legislation governing what seemed to be purely local matters. Here, the Court blocks them a bit by holding that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to regulate guns near sate-operated schools.
Korematsu v. United States (1944)
This case was not the Supreme Court's finest hour, as it ruled that American citizens of Japanese descent could be interned and deprived of basic constitutional rights due to executive order.
United States v. Nixon (1974)
In this case, Congress claimed that there was no such ting as executive privilege as it went after tapes that President Nixon had made of his conversations in the Oval Office. The Court disagreed and allowed for executive privilege. But they forbid its usage in criminal cases, which meant that Nixon ultimately did have to turn over the tapes.
Clinton v. New York (1998)
This case banned the presidential use of a line-item veto as a violation of legislative powers.
Fletcher v. Peck (1810)
The first case in which the Court overturned a state law on constitutional grounds. Fletcher established the Court's right to apply judicial review to state law.
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
The Court ruled that the state of New York could not grant a steamship company a monopoly to operate on an interstate waterway, even though the waterway ran through New York. The ruling increased federal power over interstate commerce by implying that anything concerning interstate trade could potentially be regulated by the federal government.