Each term, about 7,000 to 8,000 cases get filed with the Supreme Court. This doesn’t mean that they all get in front of the justices though.
About 80 of those get granted plenary view. This includes a review with oral arguments by the attorneys.
Of that limited amount of cases, there are some that stand out and affect the whole nation. Throughout history, the Supreme Court hasn’t always gotten it right, but even the wrong decisions have helped to change the course of our country’s history.
Take a moment to go through the list of the most famous supreme court cases throughout history.
1. Obergefell v. Hodges- 2015 (5-4 decision)
The most recent of landmark Supreme Court cases is one ruling that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. This is granted under both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Same-sex couples in various states sued for the right to marry in their respective state. The state courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, while the US Court of Appeals ruled that the ban on marriage did not violate civil rights.
It was the Supreme Court who ruled that 14th Amendment does protect citizens of the same sex who want to marry. It also requires states to recognize those marriages performed in other states.
This has led to other rights getting afforded to same-sex couples. One of the major developments was the striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act 1996 that denied federal benefits to same same-sex couples.
2. Dred Scott v. Sandford- 1857 (7-2 decision)
Unlike other rulings on this list, this is one of the most scorned rulings in Supreme Court history. Dred Scott was a slave who moved to a free state with his master.
He tried to obtain his freedom through the state law of “Once free, always free.” The Supreme Court denied Scott his citizenship which became a catalyst in pushing the United States into civil war.
The decision later got overturned thanks to the 13th Amendment.
3. Brown v. Board of Education- 1954 (9-0 decision)
The NAACP did not agree with the Supreme Court’s ruling from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In that case, it was ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional.
It was ruled in 1954 that “separate is not equal” and it is a violation of the 14th Amendment. Segregated schools promptly became unconstitutional thanks to this ruling.
This landmark case was one of the major signals of the changing culture within the country. From here the civil rights movement began to gain momentum.
4. Roe v. Wade- 1973 (7-2 decision)
A woman by the name of Norma McCorvey wanted to get an abortion, but Texas state law denied her. The Supreme Court struck down this ruling because this restricts a woman’s right to choose.
The Supreme Court balanced the government’s responsibility to protect the life of its citizens with their rights of liberty. This was done by allowing states to place limits on late-term abortions.
This ruling remains as one of the Supreme Court’s most controversial to this day. The laws regarding abortion continue to be adjusted and debated on a national and state level to this day.
5. Miranda v. Arizona- 1966 (5-4 decision)
Watch one episode of cops or a show like it and you will hear the officers giving the person under arrest their Miranda Warning. This statement is a result of a landmark case that was the culmination of four separate cases.
The defendants in each case confessed guilt after getting interrogated by police. None of them knew or were informed of their 5th Amendment rights.
The 5th Amendment protects citizens from self-incrimination. This case determined that that protection extended beyond the courtroom to police interrogation.
Since this case, anyone that gets officially questioned by law enforcement must be informed of their rights. This ensures that all citizens are afforded their constitutional rights, whether they knew about them or not.
6. Gideon v. Wainwright- 1963 (9-0 decision)
There was a time when judges would deny indigent defendants an attorney. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that that was unconstitutional.
The 6th Amendment requires attorneys get provided to criminal defendants who are indigent. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling both Gideon and criminal defendants since get the assistance of counsel when defending themselves.
By making this distinction, the justice system began to reform. It was no longer about those who had money or didn’t. Today, law firms like the Verhaeghe Law Office work hard to represent those who have been charged with a crime.
7. District of Columbia v. Heller- 2008 (5-4 decision)
The topic of gun control is one that has been fiercely debated over the recent years. Many people may not realize, but those citizens living in the District of Columbia were not allowed to keep their personal firearms assembled in their home.
The Supreme Court ruled that the DC Code violated the Second Amendment in two ways. First that the term “militia” doesn’t refer to just those in the military.
Second, banning all handguns from being kept in the home and used for personal protection also violates the 2nd Amendment. The ruling, in this case, opened the door for a number of other cases that disputed the constitutionality of other gun laws.
8. Bush v. Gore- 2000 (5-4 decision)
One of the hottest debated topics of the 2000 election was the recount of the ballots in Florida. While most people thought that the subject of the case was about a presidential election, the real topic at hand was the Equal Protection Clause.
This clause states that a citizen’s ballots can’t be devalued later on by “arbitrary and disparate treatment”. This essentially is what was going to happen if a statewide recount occurred.
The problem came in because each county had different standards for what was considered an acceptable ballet. So votes that would get counted in one county, would not be acceptable in another. The other problem was that the statewide standard currently in place couldn’t guarantee that the votes would get treated equally.
In the time since this case, the laws regarding voting have been given great scrutiny. There have been revisions to ensure that these issues get addressed so as to avoid future complications.
On close analysis post-election, it was determined that with a county recount method, Bush would win, but with a state recount method, Gore would win.
9. United States v. Nixon- 1974 (8-0 decision)
When the special prosecutor in the Watergate trial tried to subpoena the audio tapes from the Oval Office, Nixon objected. he tried to claim executive privilege.
The decision, in this case, asserted that a defendant’s right to exculpatory evidence is more important than a President’s right to executive privilege. This is especially true when matters of national security are not compromised with the release.
With this case, the importance of finding out the truth and bringing justice was defined as it relates to the President’s executive privilege. This puts a limit on executive privilege so that it doesn’t become an all-encompassing privilege.
10. National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius- 2012 (5-4 decision)
President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In response, a number of parties filed suit claiming its unconstitutionality.
This case is one of three cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear. The first task was to determine the constitutionality of the individual elements. The second task was the determine severability of those parts deemed unconstitutional.
This case is historic in its rulings over the constitutionality of requiring citizens to buy health insurance. It also addresses the constitutionality of the IRS enforcing a penalty and whether that penalty qualifies as a tax. Finally does the bill constitute the regulation of economic activity.
While on the surface this case looks to be able health insurance, it had much farther reaching
Famous Supreme Court Cases
The famous supreme court cases have changed the course of history or caused us to reconsider a considered norm as a nation.
Sometimes this has led to national turmoil that ultimately led to a better country. That is what happened in the aftermath of both Dred Scott v. Sandford and Brown v. Board of Education.
Other times the decision sparked a national debate that continues to this day. As of today, we are still debating the constitutionality of abortion and gun rights thanks to Roe v. Wade and District of Columbia v. Heller.
One thing we can be sure of, the Supreme Court will continue to decide controversial cases. Their decisions will inspire us to make a change as a society to become better and provide equally protected rights to everyone.
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