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Landmark Supreme Court Cases

What is a landmark case?

Landmark cases are important Supreme Court cases where the decisions made on the cases had a lasting impact on the law and future cases.

Why are they important?

Landmark cases are important because they change the way the Constitution is interpreted. When new cases are brought before the courts, the decisions made by the Supreme Court in landmark cases are looked at to see how the judge shall rule. Lawyers cite landmark cases to prove a point and judges cite them to justify their decisions.

Examples of Landmark Cases

There have been a number of landmark cases throughout the history of the Supreme Court. We've listed a few below and described why they are considered important.

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

This case is probably the most important case in the history of the Supreme Court. With this case the Supreme Court claimed the power of "judicial review." This is the power to declare laws made by Congress unconstitutional. This power was not given to the Supreme Court by the Constitution.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

This important case rose to the Supreme Court when the state of Maryland tried to tax the Bank of the United States. Maryland claimed that the Constitution did not give the federal government the right to create a bank. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution gave the federal government certain implied powers that are not specifically stated.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

This ruling said that all African Americans, both slaves and free, were not legal citizens of the United States. This meant that they could not sue in federal court. It came about when a slave named Dred Scott tried to sue for his freedom when his owner moved him to a free state and then back to a slave state. The Fourteenth Amendment turned this decision around. Today, Dred Scott v. Sandford is considered by many to be one of the worst rulings in the history of the Supreme Court.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Another case that is now infamous for how bad it was, is Plessy v. Ferguson. This case ruled that segregation based on race was legal. It is famous for using the ruling of "separate but equal" by saying that railway cars could be separated between black people and white people. The ruling was later turned down by the case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

In this case, the court ruled that having separate public schools for black students and white students was unconstitutional. This made segregation in public schools illegal and paved the way to end racial segregation in general. Future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was the lead lawyer for the NAACP who argued the case before the court.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

This case ruled that suspects of a crime could not be questioned until they had been read their rights. This led to the Miranda Warning where police officers tell a suspect something like "you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you."

U.S. v. Nixon (1974)

In this case, the Supreme Court said that President Richard Nixon had to turn over tapes regarding the Watergate scandal. This ruling set the precedent that the president is not above the law and set limits as to the power of the president.

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