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Court Cases

(1803) Marbury v. Madison

  • William Marbury (one of Adams' midnight appointments), sued Secretary of State Madison to force delivery of his commission as a justice of the peace in the federal district; Marshall would not rule on it, because he said the law that gave the Supreme Court power to rule over such matter was unconstitutional
  • established the policy of judicial review over federal legislation
  • Precedent of the Supreme Court's power to rule on the constitutionality of federal laws

(1810) Fletcher v. Peck

  • Georgia legislature issued extensive land grants to Yazoo Land Company; afterwards, it was considered corrupt, so there was a legislative session that repealed the action
  • Court ruled that the original contract was valid and could not be broken

(1819) Dartmouth College v. Woodward

  • Republicans back the president of the college, Federalists backed the trustees
  • president try to make it a public institution (instead of private) by having the charter revoked
  • ruled that even though charter was granted by the king, it was still a contract and thus could not be changed without the consent of both parties

(1819) McCulloch v. Maryland

  • state of MD tried to levy a tax on the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States (to protect the competitive position of state banks)
  • ruled against state, b/c state had no right to control an agency of the federal gov't

(1824) Gibbons v. Ogden

  • NY state had granted monopoly to Ogden of Hudson River. Gibbons obtained a permit from Congress to operate steamboat there
  • Ogden sued, and state ruled in his favor
  • Marshall ruled that it was interstate commerce and could not be regulated by a state (only Congress could) - the monopoly was then voided

(1831) Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

  • Court refused to hear case, which the Cherokees brought forward, b/c GA had abolished their tribal legislature and courts (said that because the tribe was a "foreign nation, the decision should be made by the Supreme Court)
  • Marshall said they really were not foreign nations (they just had special status)

(1832) Worcester v.Georgia

  • GA state gov't said any US citizen who wanted to enter Cherokee territory had to obtain permission from the governor
  • GA law was overturned, b/c the federal gov't had the constitutionally mandated role of regulating trade with the tribes
  • Jackson said of Marshall "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it"

(1842) Prigg v. Pennsylvania

  • Court ruled that states did not have to enforce the return of fugitive slaves
  • Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (MD) - Pro-South

(1856) Dred Scott v. Sanford

  • Dred Scott, (slave from Missouri), had been taken to Illinois (a free state) by his owner for several years, so he sued for his freedom
  • ruled that he, as a slave, was not a slave, and could not sue in court

(1877) Munn v. Illinois

  • upheld Granger Laws that regulated railroads

(1886) Wabash Case (Wabash, St.Louis, and Pacific Railroad Co. v. Illinois)

  • ruled one of the Granger laws in Illinois was unconstitutional because it tried to control interstate commerce, which was a power of Congress only
  • restricted state regulation of commerce

(1895) United States v. E.C. Knight Co.

  • Congress charged that a single trust controlled 98% of refined sugar manufacturing in the US, but Court rejected case because trust was involved in manufacturing, NOT interstate commerce (which was what Congress could control), so, trust was not illegal
  • weakened Sherman Antitrust Act

(1896) Plessy v. Ferguson

  • ruled that segregation was allowed, as long as the facilities were "separate but equal"

(1898) Williams v. Mississippi

  • Court allowed literacy tests for voting

(1944) Korematsu v. United States

  • Roosevelt's 1942 order that Issei and Nisei be relocated to concentration camps was challenged
  • Court upheld it

(1944) Smith v. Allwright

  • Supreme Court stopped the Texas primary elections because they had violated the 15th amendment by being restricted only to whites

(1950) Sweatt v. Painter

  • ruled that blacks must be allowed to attend integrated law schools in OK and TX

(1954) Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

  • NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall challenge decision from Plessy v. Ferguson
  • Court ruled that the separate educational facilities were not equal
  • 1955 - said states must "integrate with great speed"
  • **(note: when Court announces Brown II decision, Montgomery bus boycotts began)

(1957) Roth v. United States

  • greatly limited the authority of local governments to curb pornography

(1962) Engel v. Vitale

  • ruled that prayers in public schools were unconstitutional

(1962) Baker v. Carr

  • required state legislatures to apportion electoral districts so that all citizens votes would have equal weight

(1966) Miranda v. Arizona


  • confirmed the obligation of authorities to inform a criminal suspect of his or her rights

(1971) Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

  • Court ruled in favor of forced busog to achieve racial balance in schools

(1972) Furman v. Georgia

  • overturned existing capital punishment statutes and established strict new guidelines for such laws in the future

(1973) Roe v. Wade

  • based on new theory of constitutional "right to privacy" (first recognized in Grizwold v. Connecticut)
  • invalidated all laws prohibiting abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy

(1989) Webster v. Reproductive Health Services

  • Court upheld a law from Missouri that prohibited public employees from performing abortions, unless the life of the mother was threatened
  • because of this decisions, some states tried to create similar laws

(1842) Commonwealth v. Hunt

  • Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that unions and strikes were legal


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