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AP U.S. History - List of Important Supreme Court Cases

A list of all of the major Supreme Court Cases and other lower court cases to study for my AP United States History course for the 2012-2013 school year.
Somerset Case (in Great Britain) (1772)
A slave named James Somerset was purchased in Virginia, then taken to London by his master. In London, he tried to escape. Judge Mansfield ruled that a slave who escaped in England couldn't be extradited to the colonies for trial.
Quock Walker case, Massachusetts (1753)
1783 - Helped end slavery in Massachusetts.
Rutgers v. Waddington (1784)
In 1783, the New York State Legislature passed the Trespass Act, which allowed land owners whose property had been occupied by the British during the Revolution to sue for damages. Rutgers sued in the Mayor's Court over the seizure of her brewery, and the Mayor, James Duane, declared the Act void because it conflicted with a provision of the Treaty of Paris. It was the first time a U.S. court had declared a law unconstitutional, and was an important precedent for the later U.S. Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison.
Trevett v. Weeden (1786-1787)
Occurred under the Articles of Confederation, when each state had a different type of currency. Acts passed by the Rhode Island Legislature imposed heavy fines on those who refused to accept the state's depreciated currency at face value. Weeden was acquitted on the grounds that the acts were unconstitutional.
Bayard v. Singleton (1787)
1787 - First court decision in which a law was found unconstitutional based on a written constitution.
Supreme Court: Chisholm v. Georgia (1793)
The heirs of Alexander Chisholm (a citizen of South Carolina) sued the state of Georgia. The Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens of one state to sue another state, and decided against Georgia.
Ware v. Hylton (1796)
A treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain required that all debts owed by the U.S. to Britain had to be paid in full. However, a Virginia statute said that American debts to Britain could be paid in depreciated currency. The Supreme Court upheld the treaty, proving that federal laws take precedence over state laws.
Essex case (1805)
In 1805, in the other Case, a British court ruled that U.S. ships breaking passage at an American port did not circumvent the prohibitions set out in the rule of 1756 (which forbade to neutrals in wartime trade that was not allowed in peacetime). Importance- As a result the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased. British established that the American policy of trying to neutralize cargo of ships was not legitimate; American ships carrying French/Spanish goods were subject to search and seizure. This dealt with the impressment of sailors,
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
1803 - The case arose out of Jefferson's refusal to deliver the commissions to the judges appointed by Adams' Midnight Appointments. One of the appointees, Marbury, sued the Sect. of State, Madison, to obtain his commission. The Supreme Court held that Madison need not deliver the commissions because the Congressional act that had created the new judgships violated the judiciary provisions of the Constitution, and was therefore unconstitutional and void. This case established the Supreme Court's right to judicial review. Chief Justice John Marshall presided.
Fletcher v. Peck (1810)
1810 - A state had tried to revoke a land grant on the grounds that it had been obtained by corruption. The Court ruled that a state cannot arbitrarily interfere with a person's property rights. Since the land grant was a legal contract, it could not be repealed, even if corruption was involved.
Martin v. Hunters Lessee (1816)
1816 - This case upheld the right of the Supreme Court to review the decisions of state courts.
Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)
1819 - This decision declared private corporation charters to be contracts and immune form impairment by states' legislative action. It freed corporations from the states which created them.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
1819 - This decision upheld the power of Congress to charter a bank as a government agency, and denied the state the power to tax that agency.
Polly v. Lasselle (1820)
1820 state supreme court case in Indiana where abolitionists attempted to free a slave from her master. Importance: The case resulted in the court ordering all slaves held within Indiana to be freed. This dealt with the impressment of sailors
Cohens v. Virginia (1821)
1821 - This case upheld the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to review a state court's decision where the case involved breaking federal laws.
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
1824 - This case ruled that only the federal government has authority over interstate commerce.
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831)
1831 - Supreme Court refused to hear a suit filed by the Cherokee Nation against a Georgia law abolishing tribal legislature. The Supreme Court ruled that Indians weren't independent or foreign nations but dependent domestic nations which could be regulated by the federal government, and thus the U.S. had broad powers over tribes but a responsibility for their welfare. From then until 1871, treaties were formalities with the terms dictated by the federal government.
Worchester v. Georgia (1832)
1832 - The Supreme Court decided Georgia had no jurisdiction over Cherokee reservations. Georgia refused to enforce decision and President Jackson didn't support the Court, and thus they both ignored the rullng. It expanded tribal authority by declaring tribes sovereign entities, like states, with exclusive authority within their own boundaries.
River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837)
1837 - Supreme Court ruled that a charter granted by a state to a company cannot work to the disadvantage of the public. The Charles River Bridge Company protested when the Warren Bridge Company was authorized in 1828 to build a free bridge where it had been chartered to operate a toll bridge in 1785. The court ruled that the Charles River Company was not granted a monopoly right in their charter, and the Warren Company could build its bridge.
Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842)
1842 - Case heard by the Massachusetts supreme court. The case was the first judgement in the U.S. that recognized that the conspiracy law is inapplicable to unions and that strikes for a closed shop are legal. Also decided that unions are not responsible for the illegal acts of their members.
Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842)
1842 - A slave had escaped from Maryland to Pennsylvania, where a federal agent captured him and returned him to his owner. Pennsylvania indicted the agent for kidnapping under the fugitive slave laws. The Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for bounty hunters or anyone but the owner of an escaped slave to apprehend that slave, thus weakening the fugitive slave laws.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
A Missouri slave sued for his freedom, claiming that his four year stay in the northern portion of the Louisiana Territory made free land by the Missouri Compromise had made him a free man. The U.S, Supreme Court decided he couldn't sue in federal court because he was property, not a citizen.
Ablemann v. Booth (1859)
1859 - Sherman Booth was sentenced to prison in a federal court for assisting in a fugitive slave's rescue in Milwaukee. He was released by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the grounds that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court overturned this ruling. It upheld both the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act and the supremacy of federal government over state government.
Mississippi v. Johnson (1867)
Mississippi wanted the president to stop enforcing the Reconstruction Acts because they were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decided that the Acts were constitutional and the states must obey them.
Texas v. White (1869)
1869 - Argued that Texas had never seceded because there is no provision in the Constitution for a state to secede, thus Texas should still be a state and not have to undergo reconstruction.
Legal Tender cases (1870s, 1880s)
A series of cases that challenged whether the paper "greenbacks" issued during the Civil War constituted legal tender, i.e., whether they were valid currency. The Supreme Court debated whether it was constitutional for the federal government to print paper money (greenbacks). The Supreme Court declared that greenbacks were not legal tender and their issuance had bee unconstitutional and
Slaughterhouse cases (1873)
A series of post-Civil War Supreme Court cases containing the first judicial pronouncements on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The Court held that these amendments had been adopted solely to protect the rights of freed blacks, and could not be extended to guarantee the civil rights of other citizens against deprivations of due process by state governments. These rulings were disapproved by later decisions.
Munn v. Illinois (1877)
1877 - The Supreme Court ruled that an Illinois law that put a ceiling on warehousing rates for grain was a constitutional exercise of the state's power to regulate business. It said that the Interstate Commerce Commission could regulate prices.
Civil Rights cases (1883)
1883 - These state supreme court cases ruled that Constitutional amendments against discrimination applied only to the federal and state governments, not to individuals or private institutions. Thus the government could not order segregation, but restaurants, hotels, and railroads could. Gave legal sanction to Jim Crow laws.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co. (1895)
1895 - The Supreme Court ruled that since the Knight Company's monopoly over the production of sugar had no direct effect on commerce, the company couldn't be controlled by the government. It also ruled that mining and manufacturing weren't affected by interstate commerce laws and were beyond the regulatory power of Congress. It gave E. C. Knight a legal monopoly because it did not affect trade. Legal tender case.
Pollock v. Farmer's Loan and Trust Ccompany (1895)
1895 - The court ruled the income could not be taxed. In response, Congress passed the 16th Amendment which specifically allows taxation of income (ratified 1913). Legal tender case.
Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railroad Company v. Illinois (1886)
1886 - Stated that individual states could control trade in their states, but could not regulate railroads coming through them. Congress had exclusive jurisdiction over interstate commerce. States cannot regulate or place restrictions on businesses which only pass through them, such as interstate transportation. Legal tender case.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
1896 - Plessy was a black man who had been instructed by the NAACP to refuse to ride in the train car reserved for blacks. The NAACP hoped to force a court decision on segregation. However, the Supreme Court ruled against Plessy and the NAACP, saying that separate, segregated but supposedly equal facilities for whites and blacks were legal as long as the facilities were of equal quality (the "separate but equal" policy).
Williams v. Mississippi (1898)
1898 - The Mississippi supreme court ruled that poll taxes and literacy tests, which took away blacks' right to vote (a practice known as "disenfranchisement"), were legal.
Minor vs. Happensett (1875)
1875 - Limited the right to vote to men. Legal tender case.
In re Debs (1875)
1894 - Eugene Debs organized the Pullman strike. A federal court found him guilty of restraint of trade, stopping US mail, and disobeying a government injunction to stop the strike. He later ran for president as a candidate of the Social Democratic Party. Legal tender case.
Insular cases (1901-1914)
Determined that inhabitants of U.S. territories had some, but not all, of the rights of U.S. citizens.
Northern Securities Co. v. United States (1904)
The Supreme Court found the holding was in violation of the Federal Anti-Trust Act because it restrained interstate and international commerce. The court ruled that the Federal Anti-Trust Act applied for it sought to eliminate competition between competitive railroads. The Supreme Court ordered this company to dissolve because it was a trust.
Standard Oil Company of New Jersey v. United States (1911)
A 1911 antitrust case in which Standard Oil was found guilty of violating the Sherman Act by illegally monopolizing the petroleum industry. As remedy the company was divided into several competing firms. The Supreme Court allowed restrictions on competition through the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
United States v. American Tobacco Co. (1911)
Was a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which held that the combination in this case is one in restraint of trade and an attempt to monopolize the business of tobacco in interstate commerce within the prohibitions of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The Supreme Court allowed restrictions on competition through the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918)
(1918) Congress does not have the right to regulate commerce of goods that are manufactured by children, therefore voiding the Keating-Owen Act of 1916. Drawing a distinction between the manufacture of goods and potential "inherent evil" of goods themselves introduced into interstate commerce.
Sacco and Vanzetti case (1920-1927)
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian immigrants charged with murdering a guard and robbing a shoe factory in Braintree, Mass. The trial lasted from 1920-1927. Convicted on circumstantial evidence, many believed they had been framed for the crime because of their anarchist and pro-union activities.
Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923)
1923 - The hospital fired employees because it didn't want to pay them what was reqired by the minimum wage law for women and children.
Leopold and Loeb case (1924)
Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were convicted of killing a young boy, Bobby Franks, in Chicago just to see if they could get away with it. Defended by Clarence Darrow, they got life imprisonment. Both geniuses, they had decided to commit the perfect murder. The first use of the insanity defense in court.
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
1925 - Benjamin Gitlow was arrested for being a member of the Communist party. The New York court upheld the conviction. Established precedent of federalizing Bill of Rights (applying them to States); States cannot deny freedom of speech - protected through due process clause of Amendment 14.
Scopes Trial (1925)
1925 - Prosecution of Dayton, Tennessee school teacher, John Scopes, for violation of the Butler Act, a Tennessee law forbidding public schools from teaching about evolution. Former Democratic presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, prosecuted the case, and the famous criminal attorney, Clarence Darrow, defended Scopes. Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but the trial started a shift of public opinion away from Fundamentalism.
Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935)
May, 1935 - The U.S. Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional. It held that Condress had improperly delegated legislative authority to the National Industrial Recovery Administration and that the federal government had exceeded its jurisduction because Schecter was not engaged in interstate commerce.
United States v. Butler (1936)
1936 - Declared AAA unconstitutional because it involved Congress levying a tax against the general wellfare.
United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936)
1936 - Upheld embargo imposed on arms destined for nations at war in the "Chaco War" that had broken out in 1932 between Bolivia and Paraguay.
West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)
1937 - Supreme Court upheld the Washington state minimum wage statute.
NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937)
April 1937 - Sumpreme Court upheld the Wagner Act, ensuring the right to unionize, in a 5 to 4 decision. This decision signaled a change in the Court's attitude towards support of the New Deal and lead FDR to abandon his court-packing plan.
United States v. Darby Lumber Co. (1941)
1941 - Overruled the Hamme case of 1918 by upholding the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1942)
Decided that a state can require student to salute the flag in school.
Smith v. Allwright (1944)
Outlawed White primaries held by the Democratic Party, in violation of the 15th Amendment.
Korematsu v. United States (1944)
Upheld the U.S. government's decision to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II.
Alger Hiss case (1948)
Alger Hiss was a former State Department official who was accused of being a Communist spy and was convicted of perjury. The case was prosecuted by Richard Nixon. In 1948 committee member Richard m Nixon led the chase after Alger Hiss, a prominent ex-New Dealer and a distinguished member of the "eastern establishment." accused of being a communist agent in the 1930s, hiss demanded the right to defend himself. His dramatically met his chief accuser before the Un-American Activities Committee in august but was convicted of perjury. The case was prosecuted by Richard Nixon.
Sweatt v. Painter (1950)
Segregated law school in Texas was held to be an illegal violation of civil rights, leading to open enrollment.
Dennis v. U.S. (1951)
In 1948, the Attorney General indicted two key Communist leaders for violation of the Smith Act of 1940 which prohibited conspiring to teach violent overthrow of the government. They were convicted in a 6-2 decision and their appeal was rejected.
Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952)
Supreme Court decision which restricted the powers of the president and the executive branch.
Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)
1954 - The Supreme Court overruled Plessy v. Ferguson, declared that racially segregated facilities are inherently unequal and ordered all public schools desegregated. In 1967, the Supreme Court appointed the first Black Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall. He had led that NAACP's legal defense fund and had argued the Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case before the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren used the Court's authority to support civil rights and individual liberties. He authored Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and Roe v. Wade decisions. His liberal attitudes led conservative groups to brand him a communist and lobby for his impeachment.
Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
Ms. Mapp was affirmed convicted having pornography "on her person" even though Ohio police obtained the material without a warrant. The Supreme Court ruled that there must be a warrant to search.
Baker v. Carr (1962)
The Supreme Court declared that the principle of "one person, one vote" must prevail at both state and national levels. The decision required that districts be redrawn so that each representative would represent the same number of people.
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
Local and state laws requiring prayer in public schools were banned on the grounds that such laws violated the First Amendment.
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
The Supreme Court held that all defendants in serious criminal cases or felony prosecutions are entitled to legal counsel from the state and local courts at the state's expense, so the state must appoint a free attorney to represent defendants who are too poor to afford one. Before, counsel was only appointed if the death penalty was involved.
School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963)
Held that it should not be necessary to require prayer be said in school. School district was said to be violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Wesberry v. Sanders (1964)
Supreme Court required states to draw their congressional districts so that each represented the same number of people. "As nearly as practical, one man's vote . . . is to be worth as much as another's".
Reynolds v. Sims (1964)
Supreme Court created the one person, one vote grounded in the Equal Protection Clause.
Escobedo v. Illinois (1964)
Court ruled that there was a right to counsel at the police station. This was needed to deter forced confessions given without the benefit of counsel.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964)
Supreme Court said that there would be penalties for those who deprived others of equal enjoyment of places of accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
Court declared that police officers must inform persons they arrest of their rights: the right to remain silent and the right to counsel during interrogation.
Swan v. Carlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education (1971)
A unanimous decision that the busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation.
Reed v. Reed (1971)
Equal protection: the Supreme Court engaged in independent judicial review of a statute which discriminated between persons on the basis of sex, making it clear that the Supreme Court would no longer treat sex-based classifications with judicial deference.
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional most state statutes restricting abortion. It ruled that a state may not prevent a woman from having an abortion during the first 3 months of pregnancy, and could regulate, but not prohibit abortion during the second trimester. Decision in effect overturned anti-abortion laws in 46 states.
Doe v. Bolton (1973)
Supreme Court found that physicians consulted by pregnant women had standing to contest the constitutionality of the state's abortion law.
Bakke v. Board of Regents, University of California at Davis (1978)
Barred colleges from admitting students solely on the basis of race, but allowed them to include race along with other considerations when deciding which students to admit.
Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980)
Ruled that a man-made life form (genetic engineering) could be patented.