Constituting America’s Seventh 90 Day Study: The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions And The Justices Who Made Them


The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions And The Justices Who Made Them



Marbury v. Madison (1803) – Justice of the Peace William Marbury versus Jefferson’s Secretary of State James Madison who was not allowed to deliver commissions for judicial appointments: Boundary between constitutionally separate executive and judicial branch powers.

Chief Justice John MARSHALL (1755-1835) Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Cohens v. Virginia (1821) – Brothers Philip and Mendes Cohen were convicted of selling National Lottery tickets in Virginia.  The two argued that this violated “free flow of commerce” as stated in the Constitution.

Swift v. Tyson (1842) – George Swift received a bill of exchange which was fraudulently obtained by John Tyson.  After the courts in New York decided in favor of Tyson due to New York State law, Swift appealed to the Supreme Court: Federal courts and state common law.

Justice Joseph STORY (1779-1845) – Served 33 years on the Supreme Court.

Propeller Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh (1851) – Following a collision on Lake Ontario, there were questions of which courts had jurisdiction.

Ex parte McCardle (1869) – William H. McCardle, a newspaper editor who wrote critical articles about the Military Reconstruction Act, was arrested.  He claimed that both the Act and his prosecution were unconstitutional: Congress and Supreme Court appellate review of habeas corpus.



McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – After Congress chartered the Second National Bank of the United States, the state of Maryland passed a law imposing taxes on that bank. James McCulloch, a teller for the bank, refused to pay the tax: Commerce Clause; constitutionality in creation of the Second Bank of the United States; federal law and state law.

Field v. Clark (1892) – Regarding duties collected on goods imported by Marshall Field & Company, John M. Clark, tax collector, argued that the Tariff Act of October 1, 1890 was actually a law even though it was passed by Congress: Presidential powers, and challenges to laws.



U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Exports (1936) – When Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation violated an embargo, to prohibit trade, enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it argued that the President should not have been given this power: Congress and lawmaking authority to the President.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952) – Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company versus Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer: Congress, the Constitution, and presidential power to issue an order.



Fletcher v. Peck (1810) – After it was determined that the Georgia legislature took bribes for the passage of the Yazoo Land Act, the new legislature repealed the act and voided all sales coming from it. Robert Fletcher sued John Peck for selling him land with no clear title: Contract Clause of the Constitution.

Green v. Biddle (1823) –When Kentucky became an independent state, it signed a compact with Virginia to protect property rights. Kentucky then passed a law that impaired this compact, causing a dispute over ownership of the property: John Green versus Richard Biddle and the Contracts Clause of the Constitution on public and private agreements.

Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Company (1829) – When Thomas Willson broke through a dam built by the Black Bird Creek Marsh Company, the company sues as it was authorized to build the dam by Delaware law.  Willson argued that the dam was in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and that he had a constitutional right to navigate coastal streams.

Barron v. Baltimore (1833) – When the city of Baltimore diverted the flow of streams to aid in street construction, it damaged Barron’s wharf.  John Barron sued the mayor of Baltimore, claiming that the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fifth Amendment, applied to states as well regarding just compensation for private property takings for public use.

Craig v. Missouri (1830) – In 1821, the state of Missouri printed money to loan to farmers.  When Hiram Craig defaulted on his loan, he was sued by the state to force payment.  It was argued that states issuing bills of credit unconstitutional in the first place.

Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky (1837) – After Kentucky authorized a state owned bank to issue bills of credit, the bank loaned bills to Briscoe. When he failed to pay, the bank sues him. Briscoe claimed that the bank, and therefore Kentucky, had violated Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution.

Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) – In 1785, the Charles River Bridge Company was granted a charter to construct a bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Years later, the state of Massachusetts allowed the Warren Bridge Company close to the Charles River Bridge.  The Charles River Bridge Company claimed that it had exclusive rights to build a bridge and that the contract with Massachusetts had been violated.

Cooley v. Pennsylvania Board of Wardens (1852) – In 1803, Pennsylvania enacted a law that regulated pilots of ships. Aaron Cooley violated this law by entering the state’s harbor without the guidance of a local pilot. Cooley claimed this was unconstitutional.

Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) – After Edward Prigg was convicted in Pennsylvania of capturing and returning a slave from Maryland, he appealed, arguing that the Pennsylvania law making his actions illegal was in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Ableman v. Booth (1859): Sherman Booth was arrested by U.S. Marshal Stephen Ableman for rescuing an escaped slave in Wisconsin. When Booth was freed because the Wisconsin state government refused to recognize the authority of the federal courts, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Texas v. White (1869) – George W. White, the State of Texas, and the constitutionality of secession from the Union.



Gelpcke v. Dubuque (1863) – After a city government in Iowa refused to honor railroad tax bonds, Herman Gelpcke and other bondholders sued, in federal court, the City of Dubuque in an attempt to recover interest on the bonds.

Euclid v. Ambler Realty (1926) – In order to prevent the Village of Euclid, Ohio, from growing too large, the village developed zoning laws. Ambler Realty’s property was divided into three classes, therefore hindering it from developing the land for industry. Ambler Realty sues, arguing that the zoning laws deprived it of its property without due process.

Justice George SUTHERLAND (1862-1942) – Served 15 years on the Supreme Court.

San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973) – Demetrio Rodriguez and other members of the Edgewood Concerned Parent Association in Texas, involving the San Antonio Independent School District, brought forward a suit claiming that the state’s method of school financing violated the assertion of equal protection under the law.



Baker v. Carr (1962) – The Tennessee State Constitution required that legislative districts be redrawn every ten years. Former Mayor Charles Baker argued that this had not been done since 1901, resulting in unfair representation. Tennessee Secretary of State Joe Carr was sued since he was ultimately responsible for conduct of elections and publication of district maps. The state courts sided with the state of Tennessee, and it was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court.



Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad v. Chicago (1897) – When the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company was only awarded one dollar for the Chicago city council appropriating the right of way for its property, the railroad company appealed.  The City of Chicago argued that due process of law only required allowing the railroad company’s case to be heard.



New Jersey v. Wilson (1812) – In 1758, the New Jersey legislature made an agreement with the Delaware Indians, giving them a portion of land which could never be sold or taxed. In 1801, the Indians were given permission to sell the land, and in 1804 the legislature repealed the land’s tax exemption. It was argued that the land purchaser has “all the rights of the Indians.”

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) – Dartmouth College was chartered in 1769 by King George III. In 1816, after the revolution, New Hampshire’s legislature attempted to alter the charter and make the privately funded school, public. The existing trustees filed suit against William Woodward, the new appointed secretary under the new charter, claiming that the legislature violated the Constitution.

U.S. v. E.C. Knight (1895) – In 1892, the American Sugar Refining Company acquired E.C. Knight Co. and other sugar companies, resulting in a 98% monopoly of the sugar refining industry. President Grover Cleveland advised the national government, also known as the “Sugar Trust Case,” to sue the E.C. Knight Company under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to prevent this. The company argued that the government could not regulate the manufacturing of goods through the antitrust or “competition law,” but could only regulate distribution of goods.

Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897) – In an attempt to protect its citizens from deceitful companies, the state of Louisiana passed a law prohibiting out-of-state insurance companies from conducting business in the state without being authorized by the state. When the E. Allgeyer & Company of Louisiana violated this statute and purchased insurance from New York, Allgeyer claimed that this law violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Champion v. Ames (1903) – Charles Champion was indicted for shipping Paraguayan lottery tickets from Texas to California under the Federal Lottery act, which prohibited the sales of lottery tickets across state lines.  Champion claimed that the power to regulate commerce does not include the power to prohibit commerce.

Nebbia v. New York (1934) – After Leo Nebbia was fined for violating the price regulations for milk set by the New York state legislature, he challenged the conviction by arguing that the regulations violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Home Building and Loan v. Blaisdell (1934) – During the Great Depression, Minnesota extended the time available for people to redeem their mortgages from foreclosure.  Lenders argued that this violated Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution which prohibits a state from “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”

Gold Clause Cases (1935) – The Supreme Court decided upon whether Congress’ joint resolution to cancel all gold clauses in public and private contracts was constitutional.

Schecter v. U.S. (1935) – The Supreme Court decided upon whether the National Industrial Recovery Act, a main part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, was constitutional.

Justice Louis D. BRANDEIS (1856-1941) – Served 22 years on the Supreme Court.

Carter v. Carter Coal (1936) – Carter, a shareholder of the Carter Coal Company, argued that the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act, which regulated the coal mining industry, was unconstitutional, as coal mining is not interstate commerce.

National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel (1937) – After the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Jones and Laughlin Steel for discrimination, the company refused to comply with the ruling, stating that the act was unconstitutional.

National League of Cities v. Usery (1976) – The National League of Cities sued claiming that the Fair Labor Standards act, specifically the requirement of states to pay employees a new minimum wage and overtime, was unconstitutional.

Wickard v. Filburn (1942) – Filburn, a farmer in Ohio, was fined for violating a federal rule limiting wheat production.  Filburn sued, arguing that his local business could not be regulated under the constitution.

Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985) – When Congress failed to exempt state-owned mass transit systems from its minimum wage and overtime statutes, it was argued that this violated state’s sovereignty granted to it under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.



In re Debs (1895) – In 1984, the president of the American Railway Union was involved in the Pullman Strike.  When the government ordered the strikers to return back to work because the strike turned violent, Debs challenged the federal government’s ability to intervene.

Justice David J. BREWER (1837-1910) – Served 20 years on the Supreme Court.

Holden v. Hardy (1898) – The state of Utah passed a law limiting the number of hours one could work in a smelter or mine.  It was argued whether or not this law was constructional.

Lochner v. New York (1905) – New York law prohibited a bakery employee from working more than ten hours a day and sixty hours a week. It was argued that this law was in violation of “freedom of contract” under the due process clause.

Adair v. U.S. (1908) – William Adair was indicted after he fired a railroad employee for belonging to a labor union, which was a direct violation of the Erdman Act of 1898.  Adair argued that the ban on forbidding workers from joining labor unions was unconstitutional.

Coppage v. Kansas (1915) – Coppage, an employer, forbade his employees from joining labor unions.  Such anti-union contracts were prohibited by Kansas state law.  Coppage argued that this law violated his due process rights.

Justice Mahlon Pitney (1858-1924) Served 10 years on the Supreme Court.



Sturges v. Crowninshield (1819) and Ogden v. Saunders (1827) – It was argued whether or not state bankruptcy laws violated the Constitution, as the Constitution grants that power to Congress.

Legal Tender Cases – These cases decided upon whether legal tender in the form of paper money violated the Constitution.

Pollock v. Farmers Loan and Trust (1895) – Pollock owned stock in the Farmers Loan and Trust Company.  When the company announced that it would comply and pay the taxes under the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, he sued, claiming that the law was unconstitutional..



Ex parte Vallandigham (1864), and Ex parte Milligan (1866) – These cases decided upon when a person should be tried in a military tribunal and when a person should be tried in civilian courts under the Constitution.

Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad v. Minnesota (1890) – When the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to overturn a regulatory agency’s set railroad rates, it was appealed to the Supreme Court.  The companies argued that the rates were set without due process of law.

Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) – These cases argued civil liberties in education, claiming that these regulations violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Palko v. Connecticut (1937) – Following being sentenced to both first-degree and second-degree murder, Palko appealed, claiming that the Fifth Amendment protecting against double jeopardy applied to state governments, as well.



Furman v. Georgia (1972) – This case argued whether or not the death penalty is considered cruel and unusual punishment.



Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) – When Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom, it was argued that he had no right to sue in federal courts, as slaves were not considered citizens.

Ex parte Merryman (1861) – Lieutenant John Merryman was arrested, charged with, among other things, various acts of treason. He requested a writ of habeas corpus, and a hearing. In U.S. legal history, this is an American Civil War case contesting the president’s power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during a national emergency and for public safety.

Chief Justice Roger TANEY (1777-1864) Served 28 years on the Supreme Court.

The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) – When a city in Louisiana attempted to regulate and take over the slaughterhouse industry, butchers sued on the grounds of due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Stephen J. FIELD (1816-1899) Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Civil Rights Cases (1883) – It was argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 violated the Constitution because Congress did not have the authority to regulate private matters.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – Argued that segregation laws were unconstitutional, even if segregated facilities were “separate but equal.”

Justice John Marshall HARLAN (1833-1911) – Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

The Insular Cases (1901) – Argued how to govern U.S. territories, as nothing was specifically said about it in the Constitution.

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) – Determined whether or not Congress could regulate the sale of private property in an effort to prevent discrimination.

United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938) – When Carolene Products Company violated a federal law prohibiting filled milk to be shipped in interstate commerce, the company argued that this law violated the Commerce Clause and on due process grounds.

Bolling v. Sharpe (1954) and Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) and Cooper v.

Aaron (1958) – Argued that school segregation was unconstitutional and that states are bound by the Supreme Court’s decisions.

Chief Justice Earl WARREN (1891-1974) – Served 15 years on the Supreme Court.

Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) and California v. Bakke (1978) and USWA v. Weber (1979) and Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980) – These cases argued the constitutionality of efforts to battle discrimination. 

Richmond v. J. Croson Company (1989) – Argued whether or not a city giving preference to minority businesses for municipal contracts was constitutional.



Establishment Clause:

Abrams v. United States (1919) – Argued whether inciting resistance to a war violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Justice Oliver Wendell HOLMES, Jr. (1841-1935) – Served 29 years on the Supreme Court.

Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Everson v. Ewing (1962) – Decided on whether or not promoting a particular religion in schools in unconstitutional.

Freedom of Speech:

Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Bradenburg v. Ohio (1969) – Argued whether or not being convicted for speech that promotes anarchy, violence, or terrorism violates an individual’s right to free speech.

Chief Justice William Howard TAFT (1857-1930) – Served 8 years on the Supreme Court.

Dennis v. United States (1951) – Dennis, General Secretary of the Communist Party USA, was convicted for speech plotting to overthrow the government.  It was argued that this conviction is a violation of the First Amendment.

Justice Hugo BLACK (1886-1971) – Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Freedom of the Press:

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) – Argued whether or not Alabama’s law on libel, by not requiring a person to prove harm violates an individual’s right to free speech.

Justice William J. BRENNAN, Jr. (1906-1997) – Served 33 years on the Supreme Court.



Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – It was argued that a Connecticut law banning forms of contraceptives violated an individual’s right to privacy.

Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey (1992) – Determined whether aspects of abortion laws violated an individual’s right to privacy.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) – These cases argued civil rights for homosexuals and whether or not laws infringing on these rights violated the Constitution.

Justice Antonin SCALIA (1936-2016) – Served 30 years on the Supreme Court.



Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832) – These cases dealt with government authority for relations with the Native American nations.



Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) – The court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, approving for the first time a prohibition of a specific abortion procedure.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) – The court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment provides an individual right of gun ownership, unrelated to militia service.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010) – Application to the states of the right to keep and bear arms.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Bush v. Gore (2000) and Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board (2000) – The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Florida’s court-ordered manual recount of vote ballots in the 2000 presidential election, between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, was unconstitutional.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008) – The court ruled Indiana’s requirement that voters show a photo id does not violate the Constitution.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – The court agreed corporations and unions could make unlimited independent expenditures in campaigns, saying restrictions violated free speech.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Justice Anthony KENNEDY (born 1936) – Began serving on the Supreme Court February 1988.

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that federal discrimination laws do not apply to religious organizations’ selection of religious leaders.

Vote: (8-0) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.



The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions And The Justices Who Made Them


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