Cases in Supreme Court History
v. Madison- the power of the courts
This case established the power of the Court to judiciously review
acts of Congress,
a power not explicitly granted by the Constitution.
v. Maryland- "the letter and the spirit"
Upheld the right of Congress to create a Bank of the United States,
ruling that it was a power implied but not specifically laid out by
the Constitution. The case is significant because it advanced the doctrine
of implied powers, or a loose construction of the Constitution. The
Court, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, would sanction laws reflecting
"the letter and spirit" of the Constitution.
1857 Dred Scott
v. Sanford- a defeat for
A highly controversial case that intensified the national debate over
slavery. The case involved Dred Scott, a slave, who was taken from a
slave state to a free territory. Scott filed a lawsuit claiming that
because he had lived on free soil he was entitled to his freedom. Chief
Justice Roger B. Taney disagreed, ruling that blacks were not citizens
and therefore could not sue in Federal Court. Taney further inflamed
anti-slavery forces by declaring that Congress had no right to ban slavery
from U.S. territories.
1896 Plessy v.
Ferguson- paved the way for Jim Crow laws
The infamous case that asserted that "equal but separate accommodations"
for blacks on railroad cars did not violate the "equal protection under
the laws" clause of the 14th Amendment. By defending the constitutionality
of racial segregation, the Court paved the way for the repressive Jim
Crow laws of the south. The lone dissenter on the Court, Justice John
Marshall Harlan, protested, "The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations
. . . will not mislead anyone."
1954 Brown v.
Board of Education
separate is unequal
Invalidated racial segregation in schools, and led to the unraveling
of segregation in all areas of public life. In the unanimous decision
spearheaded by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court invalidated the
Plessy ruling, declaring "in the field of public education, the doctrine
of 'separate but equal' has no place," and contending that "separate
educational facilities are inherently unequal." Future Supreme Court
Justice Thurgood Marshall was one of the NAACP lawyers who successfully
argued the case.
1973 Roe v. Wade-
Roe v. Wade
legalized abortion and is at the center of the current controversy between
"Pro-Life" and "Pro-Choice" advocates. The Court ruled that a woman
has the right to an abortion without interference from the government
in the first trimester of pregnancy, because it is part of her "right
to privacy." The Court maintained that right to privacy is not absolute,
however, and granted states the right to intervene in the second and
third trimesters of pregnancy.