Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

Landmark Supreme Court cases and how they affect you

  • 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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

    - 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.

  • 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.

     

2018 All rights reserved.