Landmark Supreme Court Cases and How They Affect You

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death on Sept. 18, President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to take Ginsburg's place. Barrett is widely seen as a conservative judge, which has led numerous Democratic politicians to voice concern that she may very well tip the scales when the Supreme Court hears arguments on the Affordable Care Act Nov. 10, just a week after the 2020 election. In doing so, Barrett's vote could theoretically cause the Affordable Care Act to be repealed and leave millions of Americans without health care. That vote underscores the gravity of Supreme Court decisions and how they can dramatically shape day-to-day life for Americans.

Landmark Supreme Court cases and Chief Justices of the time
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The democratic institution of the Supreme Court is tasked with remaining neutral, interpreting the Constitution based on legality and not political ideology. Who sits on the Supreme Court matters because the federal court determines how laws are enforced across the nation, and the judicial branch keeps a check on the executive and legislative branches. The Supreme Court's rulings have given women the right to reproductive rights, required police officers to inform suspects of their rights, and allowed citizens the right to carry handguns for self-defense.

Stacker used information from the law project Oyez, Justia's U.S. Supreme Court Center, and news reports on Supreme Court decisions to come up with this list of 35 landmark Supreme Court cases. Read on to see just how influential the Court has been for more than 200 years, and how decisions made between 1803 and 2020 can still impact you today.

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Marbury v. Madison
US Chief Justice John Marshall—Storkk / Wikimedia Commons

Marbury v. Madison

- Topic of case: judicial review
- Case decided on: Feb. 24, 1803
- Vote tally: 4–0 (unanimous) decision for Marbury
- Justices who concurred: John Marshall, William Paterson, Samuel Chase, Bushrod Washington
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: John Marshall

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In this 1803 case, the Supreme Court established judicial review after then-Secretary of State James Madison failed to deliver a Justice of the Peace commission to William Marbury following Thomas Jefferson's elections. The Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that allowed Madison to bring his complaint was unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Marshall held that any law that conflicted with the Constitution would then be rendered "null and void."

How this affects you: This decision made the Supreme Court what it is today, putting the judicial branch on equal footing with the legislative and executive branches. Judicial review is integral to our system of checks and balances.

McCulloch v. Maryland
Swatjester / Flickr

McCulloch v. Maryland

- Topic of case: implied powers of the federal government
- Case decided on: March 6, 1819
- Vote tally: 6–0 (unanimous) decision for McCulloch
- Justices who concurred: John Marshall, Bushrod Washington, William Johnson, H. Brockholst Livingston, Gabriel Duvall, Joseph Story
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: John Marshall

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In 1816, Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States. The state of Maryland tried to impose taxes on the bank. In a unanimous decision under Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court held that the Necessary and Proper Clause gave Congress the authority to establish a national bank. The Court also held that states cannot have power over the federal government.

Chief Justice Marshall clarified the Necessary and Proper Clause, expanding the power of Congress to those implied—but not directly stated—by the Constitution.

How this affects you: This case gave more powers to the federal government and allowed for more interpretation of the Constitution that went beyond what was specifically written down.

Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott—Missouri Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Dred Scott v. Sandford

- Topic of case: legal emancipation and citizenship of enslaved people
- Case decided on: March 6, 1857
- Vote tally: 7–2 decision for Sanford
- Justices who concurred: Roger B. Taney, James M. Wayne, John Catron, Peter V. Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Robert C. Grier, John A. Campbell
- Justices who dissented: John McLean, Benjamin R. Curtis
- Chief Justice at the time: Roger B. Taney

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In 1857, Dred Scott, once an enslaved person in Missouri, argued in court that he should be free after living in Illinois, where slavery wasn't allowed. The Court held that "a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves," whether a slave or not, wasn't an American citizen and couldn't sue in federal court.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court also ruled that they did not have the jurisdiction to ban slavery in U.S. territories, and the rights of slave owners were protected under the Fifth Amendment because slaves were considered property.

How this affects you: This is one of the cases that highlighted just how worthless some considered the lives of enslaved Americans in the 1800s, and speaks to the attitudes of even the highest court in the land on whether enslaved people were actually people, or "property."

Plessy v. Ferguson
Jack Delano / Wikimedia Commons

Plessy v. Ferguson

- Topic of case: "separate but equal" doctrine
- Case decided on: May 18, 1896
- Vote tally: 7–1 decision for Ferguson
- Justices who concurred: Melville Fuller, Stephen J. Field, Horace Gray, Henry B. Brown, George Shiras Jr., Edward D. White, Rufus W. Peckham
- Justices who dissented: John M. Harlan
- Chief Justice at the time: Melville Fuller

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Under the Separate Car Act, Louisiana required Black and white passengers to ride in different railroad cars. In 1892, Homer Plessy, who was considered Black but was also seven-eighths Caucasian, challenged the act. Railroad companies didn't like the policy either—they had to buy more cars. Plessy's lawyers claimed the act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, but he was convicted anyway.

The Court, under Chief Justice Henry Billings Brown, upheld Plessy's conviction, arguing that segregation imposed by the states was constitutional. Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented, saying that all citizens should have equal access to civil rights.

How this affects you: Even though this ruling has since been overturned, the effects of this decision can still be seen today. Plessy v. Ferguson condoned segregation, and allowed for lawmakers and businesses to create facilities that were subpar for Black Americans, even though they were considered "equal." This was an easy way of limiting the rights of people based on race, even after the Civil War ended.

Korematsu v. United States
Japanese internees—U.S. Department of Justice / Wikimedia Commons

Korematsu v. United States

- Topic of case: internment of Japanese Americans during WWII
- Case decided on: Dec. 18, 1944
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for United States
- Justices who concurred: Harlan F. Stone, Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Wiley B. Rutledge
- Justices who dissented: Owen Roberts, William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy
- Chief Justice at the time: Harlan F. Stone

- Majority and dissenting opinions

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, the U.S. government kept Japanese Americans in internment camps from 1942 to 1945. Japanese American Fred Korematsu, who stayed in his residence instead of going to the camps, was arrested and convicted for violating Executive Order 9066 to relocate. He argued the order violated the Fifth Amendment.

Citing Hirabayashi v. U.S., the Supreme Court decided in favor of the United States. The Court, under Chief Justice Harlan Stone, held that the order wasn't racist. It was an effort aimed at protecting the U.S., particularly those on the West Coast.

The Justice Department issued a "confession of error" about the case in 2011, and the decision was formally repudiated by the Court in 2018.

How this affects you: While the decision has been criticized by both common people and the Court, it was able to promote the idea that during a time of war, different types of military action is acceptable if the action supposedly protects the safety of the United States.

Brown v. Board of Education
1959 protest in Arkansas—Public Domain

Brown v. Board of Education

- Topic of case: segregation of public schools on the basis of race
- Case decided on: May 17, 1954
- Vote tally: 9-0 (unanimous) for Brown et. al
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Robert H. Jackson, Harold H. Burton, Tom C. Clark, Sherman Minton
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Plessy v. Ferguson wasn't challenged until 1954 when the Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion by a unanimous Court, which held that the "separate but equal" policy was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment. Warren, who became progressively more liberal as he aged, wrote the opinion in a way he felt the general public would be able to understand by incorporating information from social science studies.

How this affects you: This landmark case not only allowed students to go to the public schools they wanted regardless of their race, but struck down the notion "separate but equal" wasn't an inherently racist, segregatory tactic. It was an important win in the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

Cooper v. Aaron
U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons

Cooper v. Aaron

- Topic of case: federal court orders versus states' rights
- Case decided on: Sept. 12, 1958
- Vote tally: 9-0 (unanimous)
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Harold H. Burton, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr., Charles E. Whittaker
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Some Arkansas officials refused to abide by the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education to integrate their schools in 1958. In a unanimous decision with a per curiam opinion—meaning every judge wrote an opinion—under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that it was unconstitutional to deprive Black students of equal protection under the law. Since Marbury v. Madisonmade the Supreme Court the ultimate law, all states were bound by the Brown decision.

How this affects you: This ruling established and highlighted the power of the Supreme Court as being the final say on all laws. This also started the conversation on not just federal right versus state rights, but also state rights versus the power of the Court.

Mapp v. Ohio
Justice Earl Warren—Moshe Pridan / Wikicommons

Mapp v. Ohio

- Topic of case: illegal police searches violating Fourth Amendment
- Case decided on: June 19, 1961
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for Dollree Mapp
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart
- Justices who dissented: John M. Harlan II, Felix Frankfurter, Charles E. Whittaker
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Dollree Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials after police confiscated them during an illegal search of her home. The Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, held that evidence obtained during an illegal search and seizure was a violation of the Fourth Amendment and inadmissible in a state court.

How this affects you: This case was one of a series of cases that tested the limits of the Fourth Amendment. Mapp v. Ohio was an important win for criminal defense as it put pressure on the law enforcement to obtain a warrant for any and all incriminating evidence for it to be held up in court.

Engel v. Vitale
Warren Supreme Court, 1953—Public Domain

Engel v. Vitale

- Topic of case: prayers in public schools
- Case decided on: June 25, 1962
- Vote tally: 6–1 decision for Engel
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr.
- Justices who dissented: Potter Stewart
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

The New York State Board of Regents was challenged after it allowed the reciting of a voluntary prayer before the start of school. The Court ruled that this was not a proper separation of church and state. Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice Hugo L. Black authored the opinion holding that public schools cannot hold prayers because it is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

How this affects you: This case made sure that public schools stayed secular, both by not imposing a certain religion on students and by not having voluntary prayer in these schools, which is still in effect today.

Gideon v. Wainwright
Clarence Earl Gideon—Public Record / Wikimedia Commons

Gideon v. Wainwright

- Topic of case: Sixth Amendment's right to counsel in criminal cases
- Case decided on: March 18, 1963
- Vote tally: 9–0 (unanimous) decision for Clarence Earl Gideon
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Arthur Goldberg
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Clarence Earl Gideon was denied the right to an attorney after he was charged with felony breaking and entering. Under Florida law at the time, state-appointed attorneys were only guaranteed for capital cases. In the Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice Hugo L. Black issued a unanimous opinion ruling that criminal defendants in state court have a right to appointed counsel if they can't afford one under the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.

How this affects you: Like Miranda v. Arizona, this case definitively gives defendants of all felonies the right to an attorney. Now, if a defendant asks for an attorney, and confessions were obtained or a trial still happened without an attorney, defendants can argue that they were improperly represented and throw out certain evidence or even a trial's decision.

New York Times Company v. Sullivan
Joe Shlabotnik / flickr

New York Times Company v. Sullivan

- Topic of case: libel law about public figures
- Case decided on: March 9, 1964
- Vote tally: 9–0 (unanimous) decision for New York Times Company
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Arthur Goldberg
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

After The New York Times printed an ad that asked for donations to help defend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a public figure accused the paper of libel because the ad featured minor inaccuracies. The Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, held that "actual malice"—knowing the facts are wrong and printing them anyway—must be found for a claim of libel or defamation to be sustained when a public figure is concerned.

How this affects you: This case expanded the First Amendment rights of journalists and media organizations. Setting this libel law standard allowed media outlets to more freely discuss politics and other hot topics, worrying less about the consequences of being opinionated or potentially inaccurate. While this was a win for journalists, public figures now have the extra challenge of proving actual malice in the effort to try to fix their tarnished reputations if they were negatively written about.

Miranda v. Arizona
Gerald L. Nino / Wikimedia Commons

Miranda v. Arizona

- Topic of case: rights of a defendant taken into custody
- Case decided on: June 13, 1966
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Miranda
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Abe Fortas
- Justices who dissented: Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, Potter Stewart, Byron White
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Police interrogated Ernesto Miranda in a rape and kidnapping case, obtaining a confession without informing Miranda that he could have a lawyer. The Supreme Court of Arizona held that Miranda's rights weren't violated because he didn't specifically ask for an attorney. Chief Justice Earl Warren and the Court disagreed. Justice Warren delivered the opinion, ruling that the interrogation was a violation of Miranda's Fifth Amendment rights. This decision led to the Miranda warning.

How this affects you: Miranda warnings, or the rights to remain silent, ask for an attorney, and have one appointed if necessary, allows for people in custody to confidently navigate the legal system and obtain the best outcome possible without getting pressured into confessing or incriminating themselves by law enforcement.

Loving v. Virginia
Ser_Amantio_di_Nicolaio / Wikimedia Commons

Loving v. Virginia

- Topic of case: interracial marriage
- Case decided on: June 12, 1967
- Vote tally: 9–0 (unanimous) decision for Loving
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Abe Fortas
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In 1958, Virginia residents Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia. At the time, interracial marriage was prohibited under Virginia law. The couple was sentenced to a year in jail but had their sentence suspended as long as they left Virginia for 25 years. After the case reached the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously held that the Virginia law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the Constitution meant "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."

How this affects you: This case was another win for the civil rights movement, as people could now freely marry who they wanted despite their skin color. It also helped decrease the power that the state or federal government had over the institution of marriage.

Terry v. Ohio
Drew Stephens / Wikimedia Commons

Terry v. Ohio

- Topic of case: stop and frisk under Fourth Amendment
- Case decided on: June 10, 1968
- Vote tally: 8–1 decision
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, Hugo Black, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Abe Fortas, Thurgood Marshall
- Justices who dissented: William O. Douglas
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Three men were stopped and searched by an officer who was not in uniform. One of the men, John Terry, was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. Terry appealed, saying the search was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures. Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held 8-1 that police could search someone if they had a "reasonable" suspicion.

How this affects you: The ruling led to the legality of the "stop and frisk" rule, which has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities.

Tinker v. Des Moines
Justice Earl Warren—Public Record / Wikimedia Commons

Tinker v. Des Moines

- Topic of case: students' freedom of speech and expression
- Case decided on: Feb. 24, 1969
- Vote tally: 7–2 decision for Tinker
- Justices who concurred: Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Abe Fortas, Thurgood Marshall
- Justices who dissented: Hugo Black, John M. Harlan II
- Chief Justice at the time: Earl Warren

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In 1965, Mary Beth Tinker, Christopher Eckhardt, and John Tinker wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War and were sent home. The students—with the help of their parents—sued the school for violating their freedom of speech.

Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court held that students don't lose their First Amendment rights just because they are at school. In order to justify restrictions of student speech, the school has to prove that the conduct would "materially and substantially interfere" with the operation of the school.

How this affects you: The Tinker test is still used today. Schools mainly meet the standard created in this case when students' speech or expressions invades the rights of other students, especially when it comes to things like hate speech or bullying.

Roe v. Wade
Lorie Shaull / Wikicommons

Roe v. Wade

- Topic of case: women's right to have an abortion
- Case decided on: Jan. 22, 1973
- Vote tally: 7–2 decision for Jane Roe
- Justices who concurred: Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr.
- Justices who dissented: Byron White, William Rehnquist
- Chief Justice at the time: Warren E. Burger

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In an issue still debated today, the Court (of all-male justices) held that a woman's right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy. Reproductive rights were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees "equal protection of the laws." The ruling allowed women a legal abortion during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters.

Under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote the Roe opinion. Blackmun was remembered for his decisions concerning abortion, an issue that kept him on the Court until the confirmation of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

How this affects you: While the Court established nationwide reproductive rights and increased women's rights, which included the right to have an abortion, many states have challenged this law and have recently worked to undermine it, either by limiting when a woman can get an abortion, imposing high fees on the procedure, or closing down clinics that can safely do the procedure.

US v. Nixon
Pubic Domain

US v. Nixon

- Topic of case: president's executive privilege
- Case decided on: July 24, 1974
- Vote tally: 8–0 (unanimous) decision
- Justices who concurred: Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr.
- Justices who dissented: none
- Chief Justice at the time: Warren E. Burger

- Majority and dissenting opinions

During the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon claimed he was immune from subpoena and did not have to turn over audiotapes of conversations he recorded in the Oval Office due to executive privilege. He argued this gave him the right to withhold information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within the executive branch, or to secure the national interest.

The Court ruled against Nixon, ordering that he had to turn over the audiotapes. Under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger—who authored a 31-page opinion—the Court granted that there was a limited executive privilege in areas of military or diplomatic affairs but gave preference to "the fundamental demands of due process of law in the fair administration of justice." Nixon resigned about two weeks after the release of the tapes.

How this affects you: This case limited the president's power when it came to concealing important information that was of public interest. It also showed that presidents are not immune to judicial matters, and must still turn over any information if it has been subpoenaed by the court system.

Goss v. Lopez
Central High School—Nyttend / Wikimedia Commons

Goss v. Lopez

- Topic of case: students' due process rights in their education
- Case decided on: Jan. 22, 1975
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision
- Justices who concurred: William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall
- Justices who dissented: Warren E. Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr., William Rehnquist
- Chief Justice at the time: Warren E. Burger

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Without a hearing, school principals suspended nine students from two high schools and one junior high school in Columbus, Ohio. The principal's actions—while legal under Ohio law—were challenged, and a federal court found that the students' rights had been violated.

The Court, under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, sided with the students, holding that Ohio had to recognize the students' rights to an education under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that public school students should be given notice and a hearing if school officials want to suspend them.

How this affects you: This is another case that uplifted student rights, and adapted the due process system to education. School administrators cannot just expel or suspend students for any reason without an investigation, as all students are entitled to an education.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
Tony Webster / Flickr

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

- Topic of case: use of affirmative action in higher education admissions decisions
- Case decided on: June 26, 1978
- Vote tally: Multiple decisions
- Justices who concurred: Warren E. Burger, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Byron White, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell Jr., William Rehnquist, John P. Stevens
- Chief Justice at the time: Warren E. Burger

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Although he was more than qualified, Allan Bakke, a white man, was rejected both times he applied to the University of California Medical School at Davis. Bakke argued he was not admitted because he was white. The school reserved 16 places in each entering class of 100 for "qualified" minorities as part of the university's affirmative action program to address previous unfair minority exclusions from the medical profession.

The Court, under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, decided in favor of Bakke but held that schools could use affirmative action policies by considering race as part of the application process.

How this affects you: Affirmative action is still in play, but race cannot be the only disqualifying factor for admissions in higher education. If someone like Bakke exceeds all of the necessary qualifications and is just not admitted due to his skin color, there are grounds for an appeal.

NJ - Stacker
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New Jersey v T.L.O.

- Topic of case: Fourth Amendment application to searches in public schools
- Case decided on: Jan. 15, 1985
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for New Jersey
- Justices who concurred: Warren E. Burger, Byron White, Harry Blackmun Lewis F. Powell Jr., William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor
- Justices who dissented: William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John P. Stevens
- Chief Justice at the time: Warren E. Burger

- Majority and dissenting opinions

T.L.O., a high school student, was sentenced as a juvenile to one-year probation after school officials found marijuana in her purse while they were looking for cigarettes. She appealed, claiming the search was a violation of her Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizures. The New Jersey Superior Court agreed with T.L.O, holding that the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment applies to searches and seizures conducted by school officials in public schools.

The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, overturned the New Jersey decision, holding that school officials had reasonably searched the student's purse under the Fourth Amendment. The Court also held that school officials can search a student without a warrant or probable cause because students have a reduced expectation of privacy when at school.

How this affects you: The case both took away from students' rights in schools and helped establish a precedent for the "reasonable expectation of privacy" prong that is often used in Fourth Amendment cases today. School officials can search a student and their belongings if they believe that the student may have committed a crime or is about to commit one, but the school does not have to prove probable cause for this belief.

Texas v. Johnson
Jennifer Parr / Wikimedia Commons

Texas v. Johnson

- Topic of case: burning US flag as a form of expression
- Case decided on: June 21, 1989
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Johnson
- Justices who concurred: William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy
- Justices who dissented: William Rehnquist, Byron White, John P. Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag in protest outside of the 1984 Republican National Convention. Texas law at the time made flag desecration illegal. The Court, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist who dissented, held that flag burning should be a form of "symbolic speech" protected by the First Amendment. The Court also held that the government can't restrict speech and ideas just because some parts of society find them offensive.

How this affects you: As a result of the Court ruling, lawmakers have tried to still impose a law that would criminalize burning the flag, whether as a sign of protest or expression, but this has not been successful and sometimes ends with more flag-burning cases than usual. First Amendment protections have seldom been curtailed, but rather increased.

Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health
Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons

Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health

- Topic of case: family terminating life support for an individual against state's wishes
- Case decided on: June 25, 1990
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision
- Justices who concurred: William Rehnquist, Byron White, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy
- Justices who dissented: William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, John P. Stevens
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

After a car accident, Nancy Beth Cruzan was left in a "persistent vegetative state." Missouri state officials wouldn't allow Cruzan's parents to take her off an artificial feeding tube without court approval. This was the first right-to-die case presented to the Court.

The Court ruled that individuals have the right to refuse medical treatment, but that does not extend to incompetent persons who aren't able to make that decision for themselves. Without "clear and convincing" evidence that Cruzan wanted to die, her parents couldn't end life support.

How this affects you: The decision, made under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, spurred many states to adopt advance directive laws that would allow patients to give instructions about their end-of-life decisions if they are rendered incapacitated.

Bush v. Gore
Bush 2001 Inauguration—Public Domain

Bush v. Gore

- Topic of case: Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election
- Case decided on: Dec. 12, 2000
- Vote tally: Multiple decisions for George W. Bush
- Justices who concurred: William Rehnquist, John P. Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In the 2000 presidential election, Vice President Al Gore, who ran as a Democratic candidate for president, contested the voting results in Florida. On Dec. 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that the Circuit Court in Leon County hand-count 9,000 contested ballots from Miami-Dade County. Then-Gov. George Bush requested that the U.S. Supreme Court review the matter.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush, holding that the Florida recount was unconstitutional because the Equal Protection Clause guarantees voters that their ballots cannot be devalued by "later arbitrary and disparate treatment." Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued that the Florida recount violated the Constitution because the Florida Supreme Court's decision had created new election law, which only the state legislature may do.

How this affects you: The case, often considered a singular ruling and not a precedent, has been cited often when it comes to legal questions about elections. The Court was criticized for getting involved in politics this way, and mass media caused this case to be one of the most publicized court cases, which still begs the question of how much can public opinion sway certain SCOTUS decisions to be made.

Grutter v. Bollinger
University of Michigan—Andrew Horne / Wikimedia Commons

Grutter v. Bollinger

- Topic of case: use of racial preferences in student admissions
- Case decided on: June 23, 2003
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Bollinger
- Justices who concurred: John P. Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
- Justices who dissented: William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Michigan resident Barbara Grutter, a white woman, applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School in 1997. Grutter's application was denied despite her high GPA and LSAT score. The law school admitted race was a factor in their admissions decisions because the school had a "compelling interest in achieving diversity among its student body."

Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause does not prevent the law school's narrow use of race when factoring which students to admit. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote "in the context of its individualized inquiry into the possible diversity contributions of all applicants, the Law School's race-conscious admissions program does not unduly harm non-minority applicants."

How this affects you: Unlike the Bakke case, Grutter had less standing because the University of Michigan used a holistic process to consider its law school candidates. Many schools have adopted this holistic approach to admissions, rather than looking at just grades and test scores, to produce a diverse student population filled with students from different backgrounds and with various talents. It also maintained that affirmative action in admissions processes is legal, as that is just one of many aspects considered when looking at a potential student.

Lawrence v. Texas
Skeezix1000 / Wikimedia Commons

Lawrence v. Texas

- Topic of case: sexual intimacy between same-sex couples
- Case decided on: June 26, 2003
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for Lawrence
- Justices who concurred: John P. Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
- Justices who dissented: William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

After a report of gunshots, Houston police entered a home and found two men engaging in a consensual sex act. The men were arrested and convicted of violating a Texas statute that banned such acts between those of the same sex. The State Court of Appeals held that the statute was not unconstitutional, citing Bowers v. Hardwick, which held that there was no constitutional right to sodomy.

Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Court overturned Bowers v. Hardwick. The Court struck down the Texas statute that made it illegal for two people of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct. The case was championed by gay rights advocates.

How this affects you: This case was a win for both privacy and the LGBTQ+ community, as adults who engage in consensual intimate acts have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes, no matter the race or sexual orientation of the people involved.

Roper v. Simmons
Shelka04 / Wikimedia Commons

Roper v. Simmons

- Topic of case: death penalty for minors
- Case decided on: March 1, 2005
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision
- Justices who concurred: John P. Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
- Justices who dissented: William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas
- Chief Justice at the time: William Rehnquist

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Christopher Simmons was sentenced to death at age 17 after a murder conviction. The Court overturned Stanford v. Kentucky, which held that executing a minor was not unconstitutional. The Court, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist who dissented, held that times had changed and executing a minor was now "cruel and unusual punishment."

How this affects you: Roper v. Simmons was important to show that there was a difference between a juvenile committing a crime versus an adult committing a crime, and that should be reflected in their punishment. Juveniles are not developed to the degree that adults are, which is why there are separate juvenile facilities and criminal records for minors who are not tried as adults.

District of Columbia v. Heller
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District of Columbia v. Heller

  1. - Topic of case: what constitutes a violation of the Second Amendment

- Case decided on: June 26, 2008
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito
- Justices who dissented: John P. Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Washington D.C. Police officer Heller could carry a handgun while on duty, but D.C. law banned registration of handguns for personal use. Heller sued the District of Columbia.

The Court held that requiring handguns to be non-functional in the home—and banning their registration—violated the Second Amendment and didn't allow people to protect themselves at home. The case established precedent used in McDonald v. Chicago, which determined that Chicago's handgun ban violated an individual's right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

How this affects you: This case has been widely criticized by modern proponents of gun laws, especially in an era when gun violence and mass shootings have become more common. While this case did not completely eliminate all regulations on guns, it has often been used as an example and a precedent for why a citizen's Second Amendment right to bear arms should not be limited.

Citizens United v. FEC
Justice John Roberts—Public Domain

Citizens United v. FEC

- Topic of case: political campaign donations as a form of free speech
- Case decided on: Jan. 21, 2010
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Citizens United
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito
- Justices who dissented: John P. Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Citizens United, a conservative non-partisan organization, sought an injunction against the Federal Election Committee to prevent the application of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to its film about Hillary Clinton. Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and portions of McConnell v. FEC, holding that political speech (and funding) cannot be limited, even if it's from a corporation.

How this affects you: 10 years after the Citizens United decision was passed, it remains controversial. The case effectively allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to put large amounts of money into politics through the use of Super PACs and dark money, therefore having more power to influence a political campaign or candidate in return.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius—United States Mission Geneva / Flickr

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius

- Topic of case: constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
- Case decided on: June 28, 2012
- Vote tally: Multiple decisions
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in 2010. Part of the ACA included an "individual mandate." The administration amended the tax code to require people to purchase minimum health care coverage or pay a penalty. The ACA also required states to accept an expansion of Medicaid in order to receive federal funds for the program and added an employer mandate to obtain health coverage for employees.

The Court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld the individual mandate, reasoning that the individual mandate was a reasonable tax. The Court also held that the Medicaid expansion was a valid exercise of Congress' spending power.

How this affects you: The decision was important to keep the Affordable Care Act going, which still provided insurance to millions of Americans. It also allowed the government to effectively penalize Americans who did not have health insurance by framing it as a tax, although this was harmful to many middle-class Americans that struggled to pay the penalty each month.

Obergefell v. Hodges
Dennis Bratland / Wikimedia Commons

Obergefell v. Hodges

- Topic of case: same-sex marriage
- Case decided on: June 26, 2015
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Obergefell
- Justices who concurred: Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan
- Justices who dissented: John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Same-sex couples in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee challenged their state's laws against same-sex marriages. The Court held that laws banning or not recognizing legal same-sex marriage violate the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause extends the fundamental right to marry to all couples.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissent arguing that since the Constitution does not directly address same-sex marriage, the Court can't decide whether states have to recognize or issue licenses for them. Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas also said the Court did not have jurisdiction on what they viewed as a state matter.

How this affects you: This case was groundbreaking for LGBTQ+ rights, as the decision made laws banning or limiting same-sex marriage in some states unconstitutional. While critics of the case did not like the Court impeding on states' rights, it was still a major decision that officially recognized and normalized homosexuality after decades of not doing so.

Department of Commerce v. New York
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Department of Commerce v. New York

- Topic of case: citizenship question on 2020 Census
- Case decided on: June 27, 2019
- Vote tally: Multiple decisions
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In 2018, the Secretary of Commerce proposed adding back a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. This was argued in the lower courts due to the fact that some households may not respond if they live with someone who is not a citizen. While the Court issued several decisions regarding this case, the district court from which the case was born blocked the Secretary from reinstating the question, but it is still up for consideration in the future.

How this affects you: The citizenship question could have negative impacts on census response rates if it does get added in the future. This could cause some districts to be redrawn in ways not indicative of the actual population.

Rucho v. Common Cause
Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Rucho v. Common Cause

- Topic of case: partisan gerrymandering as a judicial question
- Case decided on: June 27, 2019
- Vote tally: 5–4 decision for Rucho
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh
- Justices who dissented: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

This case is a consolidation of several cases in which plaintiffs argued that their redistricting plans deliberately discriminated against a certain political party, an act called partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court did not pass a specific decision regarding the issue at hand, and found that partisan gerrymandering claims are considered a political question, and is out of the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

How this affects you: The Court's vacation of this case allows for partisan gerrymandering to still happen, in which some legislatures redraw districts so that they gain more votes favorable to their political party, rather than the actual constituency that makes up that district.

Bostock v. Clayton County
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Bostock v. Clayton County

- Topic of case: firing someone on the basis of sexual orientation
- Case decided on: June 15, 2020
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for Bostock
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch
- Justices who dissented: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

Bostock is a consolidation of several cases in which an employee was fired for being gay. In a historic ruling, the Court decided in favor of the employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers to discriminate against their workers "because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is seen as an extension of discriminating against someone based on their sex.

How this affects you: This case helps expand LGBTQ+ rights in America, as employers cannot discriminate based on the sexual preferences of their employees.

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

- Topic of case: firing someone on the basis of being transgender
- Case decided on: June 15, 2020
- Vote tally: 6–3 decision for EEOC
- Justices who concurred: John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh
- Justices who dissented: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh
- Chief Justice at the time: John Roberts

- Majority and dissenting opinions

In a 6–3 decision, the Court concluded that firing someone for being transgender also violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Firing someone based on their sex is a violation of Tit

Landmark Supreme Court Cases and How They Affect You | U.S.