Landmark Supreme Court Cases

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United States Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Seal

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the U.S. for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or laws of the U.S. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court ensures the American people equal justice under law, and also functions as interpreter of the Constitution. The role of the Supreme Court derives from its authority to invalidate legislation or executive actions which, in the Court’s judgment, conflict with the Constitution. This power of “judicial review” gives the court the responsibility in assuring individual rights, as well as in maintaining a “Living Constitution” whose provisions are continually applied to new situations.

The Supreme Court must exercise discretion in deciding which cases to hear, since more than 10,000 civil and criminal cases are filed in the Supreme Court each year from various State and Federal courts. Ultimately, plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is granted in about 100 cases per term. Formal written opinions are delivered in 80 to 90 cases. The Supreme Court also has “original jurisdiction” in a very small number of cases arising out of disputes between States or between States and the Federal Government. When the Supreme Court rules on a constitutional issue, that judgment is virtually final; its decisions are only rarely altered by constitutional amendment or by a new ruling of the Court.

A landmark decision is the outcome of a legal case that establishes a precedent that either substantially changes the interpretation of the law or that establishes new case law on a particular issue. Certain cases within this category are widely known in legal studies and may be reviewed by the general public, students, and academics.


Common Landmark Supreme Court Topics with Specific Cases and Citation Numbers

Here are some specific landmark Supreme Court topics and cases along with the case citation number for the Supreme Court’s written opinion. This is a great starting point to help research the case and surrounding issues.

  • Abortion - Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113
  • Right to die - Cruzan v. Dir., Mo. Dep’t of Health, 497 U.S. 261
  • Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure - Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643
  • Right to an attorney - Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
  • Capital punishment - Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238
  • Freedom of speech and of the press - Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397
  • Freedom of religion - Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520
  • Affirmative action - Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306

LexisNexis Academic

LexisNexis Academic now has a specialized area dedicated to Landmark Supreme Court Cases. In LexisNexis Academic, click on the Search By Content Type menu, and then Federal & State Cases. There, you will see a collapsible area that houses various Landmark Supreme Court Cases by Topic, such as:

  • Abortion & Birth Control
  • Capital Punishment
  • Civil Commitment
  • Civil Rights, Affirmative Action
  • Civil Rights, Homosexuality
  • Civil Rights, Racial Discrimination
  • Civil Rights, School Desegregation
  • Civil Rights, Sex Discrimination
  • Elections
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Speech and of The Press
  • International Law
  • Mental Competency
  • Right to Attourney
  • Right to Bear Arms
  • Right to Die
  • Separation of Power
  • Terrorism
  • Unreasonable Search and Seizure

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