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Landmark Supreme Court Cases


Marbury v. Madison (1803)

"It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each."

— Chief Justice John Marshall

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

". . . Few things were better known, than the immediate causes which led to the adoption of the present constitution . . . that the prevailing motive was to regulate commerce; to rescue it from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law."

— Chief Justice John Marshall




Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

". . . . . . We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . ."

— Chief Justice Roger B. Taney,
speaking for the majority




Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

"The object of the [Fourteenth] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."
—Justice Henry Billings Brown,
speaking for the majority




Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

" . . . our holding that the exclusionary rule is an essential part of both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments is not only the logical dictate of prior cases, but it also makes very good sense. There is no war between the Constitution and common sense."

—Justice Clark, speaking for the majority




Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

"If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell . . . to write a letter to the Supreme Court . . . the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case . . . and the whole course of American legal history has been changed."

—Robert F. Kennedy




Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

". . . the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination."

—Chief Justice Earl Warren,
speaking for the majority





Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)

". . . In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views."

— Justice Fortas, speaking for the majority




United States v. Nixon (1974)

". . . Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the . . . [absolute] confidentiality of presidential communications."

— Chief Justice Warren Burger




Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

" . . . Race or ethnic background may be deemed a “plus” in a particular applicant’s file, yet it does not insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats."

— Justice Powell, Speaking for the Court




New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)

". . . The warrant requirement, in particular, is unsuited to the school environment . . . . [T]he legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search . . . Such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. "

—Justice Byron White, speaking for the majority




Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

" . . . educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns."

—Justice White,
speaking for the majority





Texas v. Johnson (1989)

"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . ."

—Chief Justice Earl Warren,
speaking for the majority



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