Important Cases in Supreme Court History

Every year, the Supreme Court receives thousands of requests to hear cases. Of those thousands of requests, around 80 cases each year are heard. While most of the cases involve constitutional issues and federal law, many of them do not make an impression. Others, however, stand out because of the way they interpret the Constitution or the dramatic changes the make to Americans’ way of life.­ Some of the most important cases in Supreme Court history have tackled issues such as abortion, racial equality and making sure the law is fair and balanced. They are cases that were decided 40, 50 even over 100 years ago and yet are still relevant today.

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

The case of Marbury v. Madison set the tone for many future court cases. One of the major questions in the case was whether the Supreme Court had the authority to review acts of Congress and determine their constitutionality. The case set a precedence, establishing the Supreme Court’s power when it comes to judicial review.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Plessy v. Ferguson was one of the first Supreme Court cases to deal with segregation. Homer Plessy was 7/8th Caucasian, but was still refused a seat in a whites-only railroad car. The case asked if Louisiana’s law requiring separate, but equal facilities for blacks and whites was legal. The court upheld the separate, but equal law. It was a setback for those seeking racial equality.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Before Brown v. Board of Education, many cities had separate schools for white students and black students. The Supreme Court ruled that separate schools were unconstitutional. As a result, schools across the country were required to integrate. This decision not only allowed black students to receive a better education, it also was a sign of progress for the Civil Rights Movement.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

Thanks to Gideon v. Wainwright, individuals who cannot afford a lawyer in criminal cases are appointed one by the courts. In this particular case, Gideon was charged with a felony and represented himself in court. He was sentenced to five years in prison. The Supreme Court ruled that by having to represent himself, Gideon was not given a fair trial.

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Roe v. Wade may be one of the most controversial decisions in Supreme Court history. The case, which ruled women have the right to an abortion, continues to play a role in pro-life and pro-choice debates around the country. Many states have also created laws in defiance of Roe v. Wade, further regulating abortions.

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