List of landmark court decisions in the United States

List of landmark court decisions in the United States

The following is a partial list of landmark court decisions in the United States. Landmark decisions establish a significant new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way:

  • distinguishing a new principle that refines a prior principle, thus departing from prior practice without violating the rule of stare decisis;
  • establishing a “test” or a measurable standard that can be applied by courts in future decisions.

In the United States, landmark court decisions come most frequently from the Supreme Court. United States courts of appeals may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case or if it adopts the holding of the lower court. Although many cases from state supreme courts are significant in developing the law of that state, only a few are so revolutionary that they announce standards that many other state courts then choose to follow.

Individual rights

Discrimination based on race and ethnicity

Discrimination based on sex

Discrimination based on sexual orientation

Birth control and abortion

End of life

Power of Congress to enforce civil rights

Other areas

Criminal law

Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures

Right to an attorney

  • Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60 (1942) A defense lawyer's conflict of interest arising from a simultaneous representation of codefendants violates the Assistance of Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
  • Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942) Indigent defendants may be denied counsel when prosecuted by a state. (Overruled by Gideon v. Wainwright (1963))
  • Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) All defendants have the right to an attorney and must be provided one by the state if they are unable to afford legal counsel.
  • Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964) A person in police custody has the right to speak to an attorney.
  • Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) Police must advise criminal suspects of their rights under the Constitution to remain silent, to consult with a lawyer, and to have one appointed to them if they are indigent. A police interrogation must stop if the suspect states that he or she wishes to remain silent.
  • In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967) Juvenile defendants are protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • Michigan v. Jackson, 475 U.S. 625 (1986) If a police interrogation begins after a defendant asserts his or her right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding, then any waiver of that right for that police-initiated interrogation is invalid. (Overruled by Montejo v. Louisiana (2009))
  • Montejo v. Louisiana, 556 U.S. 778 (2009) A defendant may waive his or her right to counsel during a police interrogation even if the interrogation begins after the defendant's assertion of his or her right to counsel at an arraignment or similar proceeding.

Other rights regarding counsel

  • Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) To obtain relief due to ineffective assistance of counsel, a criminal defendant must show that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that counsel's deficient performance gives rise to a reasonable probability that, if counsel had performed adequately, the result of the proceeding would have been different.
  • Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010) Criminal defense attorneys are duty-bound to inform clients of the risk of deportation under three circumstances. First, where the law is unambiguous, attorneys must advise their criminal clients that deportation "will" result from a conviction. Second, where the immigration consequences of a conviction are unclear or uncertain, attorneys must advise that deportation "may" result. Finally, attorneys must give their clients some advice about deportation—counsel cannot remain silent about immigration consequences.

Right to remain silent

  • Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) The right to remain silent does not exist unless a suspect invokes it unambiguously.
  • Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) The Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination does not protect an individual's refusal to answer questions asked by law enforcement before he or she has been arrested or given the Miranda warning. A witness cannot invoke the privilege by simply standing mute; he or she must expressly invoke it.

Competence

Detainment of terrorism suspects

Capital punishment

  • Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) The arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. This decision initiates a nationwide de facto moratorium on executions that lasts until the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976).
  • Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) Georgia's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it adequately narrows the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty. This case and the next four cases were consolidated and decided simultaneously. By evaluating the new death penalty statutes that had been passed by the states, the Supreme Court ended the moratorium on executions that began with its decision in Furman v. Georgia (1972).
  • Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976) Florida's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it requires the comparison of aggravating factors to mitigating factors in order to impose a death sentence.
  • Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262 (1976) Texas's new death penalty statute is constitutional because it uses a three-part test to determine if a death sentence should be imposed.
  • Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976) North Carolina's new death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it allows a mandatory death sentence to be imposed.
  • Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976) Louisiana's new death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it calls for a mandatory death sentence for a large range of crimes.
  • Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584 (1977) A death sentence may not be imposed for the crime of rape.
  • Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782 (1982) A death sentence may not be imposed on offenders who are involved in a felony during which a murder is committed but who do not actually kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place.
  • Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399 (1986) A death sentence may not be imposed on the insane.
  • Breard v. Greene, 523 U.S. 371 (1998) The International Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction in capital punishment cases that involve foreign nationals.
  • Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002) A death sentence may not be imposed on mentally retarded offenders, but the states can define what it means to be mentally retarded.
  • Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005) A death sentence may not be imposed on juvenile offenders.
  • Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 (2008) The three-drug cocktail used for performing executions by lethal injection in Kentucky (as well as virtually all of the states using lethal injection at the time) is constitutional under the Eighth Amendment.
  • Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008) The death penalty is unconstitutional in all cases that do not involve murder or crimes against the state such as treason.

Other criminal sentences

  • Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. ___ (2010) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be imposed on juvenile non-homicide offenders.
  • Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.

Federalism

First Amendment rights

Freedom of speech and of the press

Freedom of religion

Freedom of association

Freedom of petition

Second Amendment rights

Other areas

References

  1. ^ Selya, Bruce M. (August 22, 2008). "United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review Case No. 08-01 In Re Directives [redacted text] Pursuant to Section 105B of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act". United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (via the Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved July 15, 2013.