The Supreme Court of the United States handles the most important court cases in our country, so famous Supreme Court decisions have helped shape our country’s history. The Court has tremendous powers to impact laws that everyday citizens will abide by for years to come. And while most of these decisions didn’t involve any use of legal document solutions or docketing software, these 8 decisions (and a bonus) have impacted the history of the United States. That’s why it’s valuable to learn about and from landmark Supreme Court cases that changed the way Americans live. Let’s take a look at a few of these important and interesting Supreme Court cases.

Marbury v. Madison, 1803

Long before there were mobile apps for lawyers, Marbury v. Madison was one of the most important Supreme Court cases because it established the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review (the right to declare a law unconstitutional) over Congress. It also helped define the boundary between the executive and judicial branches of the United States government.

McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819

McCulloch v. Maryland is one of the more famous Supreme Court cases because it established the federal government’s implied powers over states. The Supreme Court made the decision when the state of Maryland began imposing a tax on all bank notes not chartered by Maryland. Because the Second Bank of the United States was the only out-of-state bank existing in Maryland at the time, it was interpreted as an attack on the federal bank. Therefore, the tax law was ruled unconstitutional because it was an attempt to violate the powers of the federal government in one of the Supreme Court’s earlier landmark cases.

Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963

list of famous court cases must include Gideon v. Wainwright because it established the right of a criminal defendant to have an attorney even if they could not personally afford to pay for one. In this famous Supreme Court case, the Court unanimously ruled that due to the Fifth and Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states are required to provide an attorney to defendants who cannot afford to pay for one.
The case involved a burglary where the person charged was denied the right to an attorney just because they couldn’t afford to pay for one. After being charged with the crime of burglary, Gideon (the person charged) arrived at the courthouse too poor to pay for counsel. Here’s what happened:

The case involved a burglary where the person charged was denied the right to an attorney just because they couldn’t afford to pay for one. After being charged with the crime of burglary, Gideon (the person charged) arrived at the courthouse too poor to pay for counsel. Here’s what happened:

The COURT: Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the court can appoint counsel to represent a defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint counsel to defend you in this case.

GIDEON: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel.

The Florida court declined to appoint counsel for Gideon. As a result, he was forced to act as his own counsel and conduct his own defense in court, emphasizing his innocence in the case. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict. The court sentenced Gideon to serve five years in the state prison.

After being convicted, Gideon appealed to the United States Supreme Court that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that counsel must be provided to defendants who can’t afford an attorney, and, as a result of that ruling, over 2,000 previously convicted people were released from Florida’s prisons. Today, indigent prisoners are appointed lawyers so that they can get a fair trial in court.

Miranda v. Arizona, 1966

Miranda v. Arizona was an important and landmark Supreme Court case that established the requirement that police advise people in custody of their rights before questioning them. This important Supreme Court case has had a significant impact on how American law enforcement operates. What is now known as Miranda rights are an essential part of police procedure in every state and city/town. This was a very controversial Supreme Court case at the time, as the court was split (5-4).

Loving v. Virginia, 1967 (9-0 decision)

Loving v. Virginia didn’t involve family lawyer software but was definitely considered one of the landmark court cases, as it invalidated laws forbidding interracial marriage. The case was brought by Mildred Loving (a black woman) and Richard Loving (a white man) who were sentenced to one year in prison for marrying each other, which was against the law in Virginia. The state of Virginia had a “Racial Integrity” law that prohibited marriages between whites and blacks. This famous Supreme Court case found these “anti-miscegenation” laws to be unconstitutional.

Roe v. Wade, 1973

Roe v. Wade might be one of the most famous and controversial U.S. Supreme Court cases in history, with its ruling permeating our U.S. politics to this day. Roe v. Wade determined that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The controversial Supreme Court case also established that the right of woman to have an abortion was limited to the third trimester of pregnancy. But in the subsequent Supreme Court case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the Court determined that a woman has a right to abortion until fetal viability–the ability of the fetus to live outside the woman’s body. Considered one of the more controversial Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade struck down many abortion restrictions created by states. New restrictions have arisen since, and the right to abortion has been consistently challenged by opponents since 1973.

United States v. Nixon, 1974

United States v. Nixon is also on our list of 8 of the most important Supreme Court cases. It prohibited sitting Presidents from using their executive powers to withhold evidence during a criminal investigation. The Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. President could not claim executive privilege to withhold evidence being requested by a court during a criminal investigation. In the case, President Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal and was facing impeachment. A lower court requested copies of tapes that they determined included incriminating evidence against people under investigation and possibly the president himself. When President Nixon refused to deliver the tapes, the Supreme Court ruled that he had no rights to invoke his executive privilege in a criminal case.

Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges was a landmark Supreme Court case that held same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The famous Supreme Court case made it possible for same-sex couples to get married in all fifty states, and the ruling required all fifty states to lawfully perform and recognize same-sex marriages on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex marriages. This important case has been challenged by some states, but the Supreme Court has ruled that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

BONUS: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

Since our first release of this list of the most famous and controversial Supreme Court cases, we wanted to include one more that had a tremendous impact on society and our education system. Brown v. Board of Education is easily one of the most famous cases in our nation’s history. In it, the Supreme Court held that “separate but equal” had no place in public education. The Court effectively ended segregation in public schools saying that separate educational institutions provided inherently unequal educations for white and black students to the detriment of black students. To the Court, those black students were deprived of equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court continues to have a powerful influence on how laws are interpreted today. And Smokeball law firm practice management software can have a powerful influence on how you manage and run your practice. Sign up for your free demo and see why the most successful small law firms use Smokeball!

May 29th, 2018|