last updated 9 June 2022

See also Famous Laws Under Construction

Contents: Supreme Court | Trials | Other Supreme Court | Antitrust

We've listed many of the landmark trials and Supreme Court Decisions here.

Supreme Court:

Marbury v. Madison (1803) Power of Judicial Review of Executive and Legislative acts.
Decision: Supreme Court announced for the first time the principle that a court may declare an act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson has just defeated John Adams for president. In an attempt to stymie the incoming Democratic-Republican Congress and administration, appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices including Marbury. When James Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, refused to deliver Marbury’s commission, Marbury, joined by three other similarly situated appointees, petitioned for a writ of mandamus compelling delivery of the commissions.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Segregation.
Decision: States can have laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses.

After the Civil War southern state governments began passing Jim Crow laws that prohibited blacks from using the same public accommodations as whites. Plessy v. Ferguson Upholds the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of "separate but equal". It remained the standard until Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) Desegregation.
Decision: De jure segregation in the public schools violates the principle of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment

- Linda Brown was denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka because she was black. When, combined with several other cases, her suit reached the Supreme Court, that body, in an opinion by recently appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren, broke with long tradition and unanimously overruled the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, holding for the first time that de jure segregation in the public schools violated the principle of equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Responding to legal and sociological arguments presented by NAACP lawyers led by Thurgood Marshall, the court stressed that the "badge of inferiority" stamped on minority children by segregation hindered their full development no matter how "equal" physical facilities might be. After hearing further arguments on implementation, the court declared in 1955 that schools must be desegregated "with all deliberate speed."

United States v. Cruikshank 1876 - The Bill of Rights did not apply to private actors or to state governments despite the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The hotly-disputed 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial electionrdulted in the Colfax massacre, in which dozens of black people and three white people were killed.
Federal charges were brought against several white insurgents under the Enforcement Act of 1870, which prohibited two or more people from conspiring to deprive anyone of their constitutional rights. Charges included hindering the freedmen's First Amendment right to freely assemble and their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Morrison Waite overturned the convictions of the defendants, holding that the plaintiffs had to rely on state courts for protection. Waite ruled that neither the First Amendment nor the Second Amendment applied to the actions of state governments or to individuals.
He further ruled that the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applied to the actions of state governments, but not to individuals.

Yick Wo v. Hopkins 1886 - A law that is race-neutral on its face, but is administered in a prejudicial manner, is an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment
An influx of Chinese during the 1949 Gold Rush resulted in them taking other jobs after gold panning panned out. Many competed for jobs at the expense of European American resulting in animosity toward the Chinese and other foreigners increased
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first of many pieces of legislation put into place to keep people from China from entering the United States.
The government of California worked to prevent Chinese immigrants from working by requiring certain permits that they could not obtain.
Many Chinese turned to the laundry business.
A permit was required to operate a laundry in a wooden building. Only one permit was granted of the two hundred applications from Chinese. Lee Yick continued to operate his laundry without a permin, was fined and jailed when he refused to pay the fine.

The Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Matthews, found that the administration of the statute in question was discriminatory and that there was therefore no need to even consider whether the ordinance itself was lawful.

In 1943, Congress passed a measure to repeal the discriminatory exclusion laws against Chinese immigrants and to establish an immigration quota for China of around 105 visas per year. As such, the Chinese were both the first to be excluded in the beginning of the era of immigration restriction and the first Asians to gain entry to the United States in the era of liberalization.

See The Chinese Exclusion Act for more on immigration laws to exclude Chinese.

United States v. Wong Kim Arkk 1896 Citizenship for Chinese children born in the US
The Chinese Exclusion Acts denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants. Moreover, by treaty no Chinese subject in the United States could become a naturalized citizen. Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco to parents who were both Chinese citizens who resided in the United States at the time. At age 21, he returned to China to visit his parents who had previously resided in the United States for 20 years. When he returned to the United States, Wong was denied entry on the ground that he was not a citizen.

6-4 decision:
Because Wong was born in the United States the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment automatically makes him a U.S. citizen

Engel Et Al. V. Vitale Et Al. (1962) Ban school prayer.
The Supreme Court held the entire idea of a state-mandated or state-sponsored prayer, no matter how innocuous, as contrary to the spirit and command of the First Amendment's ban against the establishment of religion.

Union Free School in New Hyde Park, New York, instituted the following prayer to be said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of each school day:

"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."
It was concidered so brief and general there can be no danger to religious freedom in it.

This daily procedure was adopted on the recommendation of the State Board of Regents and called the Regent's Prayer.
The parents of ten pupils brought this action in a New York State Court insisting that use of this official prayer in the public schools was contrary to the beliefs, religions, or religious practices of both themselves and their children.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) - Right to remain silent.
Four cases in Arizona, California and New York involved defendants who were questioned by police officers, detectives, or a prosecuting attorney in a room in which he was cut off from the outside world. None of the defendants was given a full and effective warning of his rights at the outset of the interrogation process. In all four cases the questioning elicited oral admissions, and in three of them signed statements as well, which were admitted at their trials.
Resulted in Miranda Rights being read at the time of arrest:
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to an attorney.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you by the court.

Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) Stop a Disney ski area at Mineral King near Sequoia National Park.
The key issue in the case was whether the permitted development would cause the Sierra Club sufficient injury to give them standing to sue to block the permit. The Supreme Court held that the Sierra Club, in its corporate capacity, lacked standing, but that it may sue on behalf of any of its members who had individual standing because the government action affected their aesthetic or recreational interests.

Although the Sierra Club lost the case, as a practical matter they won the war. All any environmental group needs to assert standing in a natural resource matter is to find among their membership a single person with a particularized interest (e.g. one who hikes, hunts, fishes, or camps in or near the affected area).

In his dissenting opinion Justice William O. Douglas argued in that "inanimate objects should have standing to sue in court."

In 1978, legislation added Mineral King to Sequoia National Park ending the battle.

Loving v. Virginia - 1967 Interracial marriage.
Decision: Laws against interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

In June 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a Negro woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia. The Lovings returned to Virginia. The Circuit Court of Caroline County, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriages. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
"This case presents a constitutional question never addressed by this Court: whether a statutory scheme adopted by the State of Virginia to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. For reasons which seem to us to reflect the central meaning of those constitutional commands, we conclude that these statutes cannot stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment."

"Virginia is now one of 16 States which prohibit and punish marriages on the basis of racial classifications. The present statutory scheme dates from the adoption of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, passed during the period of extreme nativism which followed the end of the First World War."

There can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. The statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races. Over the years, this Court has consistently repudiated "distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry" as being "odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality."
See: Loving v. Virginia at
See Rights and the Supreme Court.

Obergefell v. Hodges - 2015 - Same-Sex Marriage
The Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States.
A dozen couples challenged same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee — the only states with bans on marriage between gay and lesbian couples that had been sustained by a federal appeals court.
See Rights and the Supreme Court.
Griswold v. Connecticut - 1965 Contraception
The case involved a Connecticut "Comstock law" that prohibited any person from using "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception.
By a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy", establishing the basis for the right to privacy with respect to intimate practices. This and other cases view the right to privacy as a right to "protect[ion] from governmental intrusion."
See Rights and the Supreme Court.
Eisenstadt v. Baird - 1972 Contraception
Extended rights to unmarried couples, whereas the "right of privacy" in Griswold was said to only apply to marital relationships. The argument in Eisenstadt was that it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to deny unmarried couples the right to use contraception when married couples did have that right (under Griswold). Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan wrote that Massachusetts could not enforce the law against married couples because of Griswold v. Connecticut, so the law worked "irrational discrimination" if not extended to unmarried couples as well.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. - 2014 Contraception healthcare benefits
Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, did not want provide contraceptives at no cost to their employees pursuant to the Affordable Care Act because of religious beliefs.

The court rejected the government's claim that neither the owners nor the corporations could bring a religious liberty claim. "Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga ... protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies,"
See 5 Things Women Need to Know About the Hobby Lobby Ruling | TIME

Roe v. Wade (1973) Right to Abortion
- Supreme Court decision limiting state's right to regulate abortion. "Jane Roe" (whose real name was Norma McCorvey) was a woman who challenged the criminal abortion laws in Texas. These laws forbade abortion except in cases where the mother's life was in danger; claiming they were unconstitutional.

Henry Wade was the Texas Attorney General who defended the anti-abortion law. Sarah Weddington argued the cause for Roe twice. Jay Floyd argued the cause for Texas in the first argument. Robert C. Flowers argued the cause for Texas in the second argument.

The Court resolved these competing interests by announcing a pregnancy trimester timetable to govern all abortion regulations in the United States. During the first trimester, governments could not regulate abortion at all, except to require that abortions be performed by a licensed physician. During the second trimester, governments could regulate the abortion procedure but only for the purpose of protecting maternal health and not for protecting fetal life. After viability, which includes the third trimester of pregnancy and the last few weeks of the second trimester, abortions could be regulated and even prohibited, but only if the laws provided exceptions for abortions necessary to save the "life" or "health" of the mother.

The conclusion held that a woman's right to an abortion falls within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

See Abortion.

See Rights and the Supreme Court.

Casey, Governor of Pennsylvania, et al, v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania et al., - Abortion - 1992
In a bitter 5-to-4 decision, the Court again reaffirmed Roe, but it upheld most of the Pennsylvania provisions. For the first time, the justices imposed a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions. The new standard asks whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an "undue burden," which is defined as a "substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability."

Pennsylvania Provisions:
1. Informed consent: Clinics and physicians provide information on the psychological and physical risks of abortion as a part of the informed consent process, and a 24-hour waiting period following receipt of that information;
2. Spousal notification prior to an abortion;
3. One parent's consent or a court order and dissemination of informed consent information before a minor could obtain an abortion;
4. preparation of certain public reports by the abortion service provider made available to the state and public;
5. a narrower definition of medical emergency exempting physicians from compliance with the act> (

The Court upheld the informed consent provisions of the law, but found the spousal notification requirement to be an undue burden and therefore unconstitutional.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization - 1922- overturned Roe v. Wade
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court ruled 6-3 that a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks is constitutional and overturned the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973.
See Rights and the Supreme Court.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke - 1978 Affirmative action Quotas are illegal.
The Court held in a closely divided decision that race could be one of the factors considered in choosing a diverse student body in university admissions decisions. The Court also held, however, that the use of quotas in such affirmative action programs was not permissible; thus the Univ. of California, Davis, medical school had, by maintaining a 16% minority quota, discriminated against Allan Bakke,. 1940-, a white applicant. The legal implications of the decision were clouded by the Court's division. Bakke had twice been rejected by the medical school, even though he had a higher grade point average than a number of minority candidates who were admitted. As a result of the decision, Bakke was admitted to the medical school and graduated in 1992.

Smith v. Allwright - Voting Rights - Overturned Texas state law allowing parties to set voting rules including all white primaries. (1944)
Lonnie E. Smith, a black voter in Harris County, Texas, sued county election official S. S. Allwright for the right to vote in the primary.
The Court reasoned that the rule restricting primary voters to whites denied Smith equal protection under the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Shelby County v. Holder - Voting Rights Act Section 4 struck down. (2013)
Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court.

The voting rights act was passed in 1965 during the Civil Rights movement to address racial discrimination by eliminating literacy tests, requiring bilingual ballots in jurisdictions containing significant language minority populations and other things.

The law had applied to nine states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia -- and to scores of counties and municipalities in other states, including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Justice Ruth Ginsburg warned that getting rid of the measure was like "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

George W Bush v. Al Gore (2000)
- The 25 electorial college votes from Florida would decide the winner of the 2000 presidential election between Democratic candidate Al Gore nor Republican candidate George W. Bush. The vote was close and a mandated machine recount of Florida's votes put Bush in the lead by only hundreds of votes out of about 6 million cast, and Gore requested hand recounts of ballots in four heavily Democratic counties. When some of these counties failed to complete their manual recounts by an election certification deadline, Gore filed an election contest to challenge the official certification of Bush as the winner. On December 8 the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide manual recount of undervotes, or ballots on which machines failed to register a vote for president. Bush appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on December 9 the Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, halted these manual recounts while it considered the case.

On December 12 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Florida court's decision, effectively sealing Bush's victory. Seven of the nine justices found the court-ordered recount unconstitutional. They concluded that the use of different standards by different counties to determine a legal vote violates a voter's right to equal protection--that is, the right for all voters to be treated equally. However, the Court split 5 to 4 on the issue of whether to permit further counting under more uniform standards, with the majority ruling that a recount could not be completed constitutionally before a December 12 deadline for the state to choose its electors. The dissenting justices argued that the Court was wrong to involve itself in a state election dispute and that its split decision risked the credibility of the Court.

Presentation of religious symbols and sacred text on public property (2005) Ten Commandments may, in certain cases, be displayed.
Two cases one in Texas and the other in Kentucky were decided differently, both by 5 to 4 votes.

The court said an outdoor public presentation of a six-foot-tall tombstone-like monument, donated to the state 40 years ago by a civic group, among other monuments on the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin did not amount to an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

The majority ruled that government officials in the Kentucky case had acted in a way that sought to advance religion in violation of the separation of church and state. The Kentucky case involves an attempt by McCreary County officials to authorize the display of a framed copy of the Ten Commandments in local courthouses.

2nd Amendment - The Right to Bear Arms
See also Gun Control
United States v. Miller (1939)
An Arkansas federal district court charged Jack Miller and Frank Layton with violating the National Firearms Act of 1934 ("NFA") when they transported a sawed-off double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun in interstate commerce. Miller and Layton argued that the NFA violated their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
The Supreme Court reversed the district court in a unanimous decision, holding that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual the right to keep and bear a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun. Writing for the unanimous Court, Justice James Clark McReynolds reasoned that because possessing a sawed-off double barrel shotgun does not have a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, the Second Amendment does not protect the possession of such an instrument
District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) - Firearms in the home (Wash. DC)
In 2002, Robert A. Levy, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, began vetting plaintiffs for a planned Second Amendment lawsuit that he would personally finance.
In February 2003, six residents of Washington, D.C. filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, a local law (part of the District of Columbia Code). This law restricted residents from owning handguns.

It challenged the law in federal enclaves like the District of Columbia and did not apply to the states.

The Court ruled 5 to 4 a total ban on operative handguns in the home is unconstitutional.
See: Wikipedia

Second Amendment rights in the states was addressed later by McDonald v. Chicago (2010)

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen - June 2022 - Strikes Down New York Law Limiting Guns in Public
the court ruled 6-3 that states with strict limits on carrying guns in public violate the Second Amendment.

This followed 2 high profile mass shooting in May 2022: Buffalo, NY - 10 people killed in a racist shooting at a at Tops Market.
Uvalde, TX - 21 people killed at the Robb Elementary school. 19 children and two teachers.

Buckley v. Valeo, (1975) - Campaign financing
Question: Did the limits placed on electoral expenditures by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 and provisions in the 1974 Amendment, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech and association clauses?
Parties: Senator James L. Buckley (NY) and others sued Francis Valeo, the Secretary of the Senate an ex officio member of the Federal Elections Comission (FEC).
Decision: 7 votes for Buckley, 1 vote(s) against.
The Court found that governmental restriction of independent expenditures in campaigns e.g. "political action committees," (PACs), the limitation on expenditures by candidates from their own personal or family resources, and the limitation on total campaign expenditures did violate the First Amendment.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, (2010) - Campaign financing
The court ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
The decision overruled two precedents: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates, and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, a 2003 decision that upheld the part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions.

If the First Amendment has any force," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, which included the four members of the court's conservative wing, "it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."
Majority - Kennedy, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas.
Dissent - Stevens, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor
The dissenting justices did support Part IV which upheld the disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting requirements. Thomas did not support Part IV.
See wikipedia.

President Obama called it "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests. He even criticized the court in his state of the union address.

Snyder v. Phelps et al (Westboro Baptist Church) (2011) - Right anti-gay protests
The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), led by its founder, Fred Phelps had been holding anti-gay protests outside military funerals and other high profile funerals to communicate its belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America's military.

Albert Snyder won a lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church for defamation and invasion of privacy after the Rev. Fred Phelps and other church members held a demonstration 1,000 feet outside the funeral of Snyder's son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in York, Pa..

They held signs with provocative messages, including "Thank God for dead soldiers," "You're Going to Hell," "God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "God hates Obama."

The decision was overturned and went to the Supreme Court. Their 8-1 decision favored the Westboro Baptist Church.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and - as it did here - inflict great pain," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," he said.
"As a nation we have chosen a different course - to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate," the chief justice wrote.

In a lone dissent, Justice Samuel Alito said the nation's commitment to free and open debate "is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case."
He said, "Snyder was not a public figure" who could be expected to tolerate such an onslaught, but a private person who sought to "bury his son in peace."

But Roberts said the frequency of the protests - and the church's practice of demonstrating against Catholics, Jews and many other groups - is an indication that Phelps and his flock were not mounting a personal attack against Snyder but expressing deeply held views on public topics.

Westboro Baptist Church victory as Supreme Court rules in its favour over protests at military funerals | Mail Online
Westboro Baptist Church - News Stories About Westboro Baptist Church |
A Peek Inside The Westboro Baptist Church : NPR

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) Same Sex Marriage
The decision ruled gay and lesbian couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry and that states must recognize those marriages.

Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia permitted same-sex marriage ahead of Friday's 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case in which the justices considered questions related to gay marriage restrictions in four states. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the majority's opinion and was joined by the court's liberal wing. The court's four conservative justices each filed a dissent.

The first line of the decision:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State."
"No longer may this liberty be denied," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."

Marriage is a "keystone of our social order," Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking "equal dignity in the eyes of the law."

"Their hope," Kennedy wrote, "is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

Antonin Scalia didn't mince words in his dissenting opinion. The conservative justice called his colleague Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority "as pretentious as its content is egotistic," adding that it diminished "this Court's reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis."

See Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide - The New York Times
See Rights and the Supreme Court.

Furman v. Georgia (1972) - Death Penalty
Ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. This ruling effectively established a four-year moratorium on the death penalty between 1972 and 1976, when it was reinstated by Gregg v. Georgia.
List of United States Supreme Court decisions on capital punishment - Wikipedia


John Scopes (1925) - (Monkey trial)
- Charged with intentionally violating Tennessee law by teaching the Darwinian explanation of creation rather than the Biblical story.
The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union wanted to challenge the law's constitutionality and chose to test it with the trial of John Scopes, a young high-school math and gym teacher who briefly taught Darwinism as a substitute biology teacher.
The law had been enacted to reassure churches that a new school curriculum would not threaten religious beliefs, but it was not expected to be enforced.

Clarence Darrow was one of Scopes's attorneys, while William Jennings Bryan aided the state prosecutor. Darrow argued that academic freedom was being violated and claimed that the legislature had indicated a religious preference, violating the separation of church and state. He also maintained that the evolutionary theory was consistent with certain interpretations of the Bible, and in an especially dramatic session he sharply questioned Bryan on the latter's literal interpretation. Scopes was convicted, partly because of the defense, which refused to plead any of the technical defenses available, fearing an acquittal on a technical rather than a constitutional basis. Scopes was, however, later released by the state supreme court on a technicality.

The trial that inspired a Broadway play and movie by the same name - Inherit the Wind?

The Supreme Court has long since come down squarely on the side of proponents of such teaching.

Several states have attempted to circumvent such court decisions by passing laws that require public school textbooks to give "balanced treatment" to the theories of evolution and "intelligent design." However, such laws have not withstood legal challenge.
See more at creation vs. evolution.

My Lai Massacre Court Martial (William Calley) (1970)
Court martial trial of the lieutenant charged with responsibility (war crimes) for the killing of as many as 500 unarmed Vietnam civilians at My Lai village in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

In March 1971 he was sentenced "To be confined at hard labor for the length of his natural life; to be dismissed from the service; to forfeit all pay and allowances."

Opinion polls showed that the public overwhelmingly disapproved of the verdict. Two weeks after the Calley verdict was announced, the Harris Poll reported for the first time that a majority of Americans opposed the war in Viet Nam.

On November 9, 1974, the Secretary of the Army announced that William Calley would be paroled.

Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg (1951)
- Charged with delivering information about the construction of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. They were executed.

Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial (1969-1970)
- Trial of demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention for rioting. David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, John Froines and Lee Weiner. (Bobby Seale was originally part of the group, but was four years in prison for contempt.) were sentenced to five years' imprisonment plus a $5,000 fine.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed all convictions on November 21, 1972. The appellate court based its decision on the refusal to allow inquiry into the cultural biases of potential jurors during voir dire as well as Judge Hoffman's "deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense." The court also noted that it was determined after appellate argument that the F. B. I, with the knowledge and complicity of Judge Hoffman and prosecutors, had bugged the offices of the Chicago defense attorneys.

Central Park 5 (Central Park Jogger)(1989)
5 black and latino boys were convicted of assault and rape of a white jogger in central park. They were coerced by police into signing confessions, but withdrew them and pleaded not guilty. They received stiff sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years.
In parol hearings some of the men admitted assaults unrelated to the attack on the jogger and expressed regret, but maintained their innocence of the attack on the jogger which hurt their chances for parol.
In 2001, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist serving life in prison, confessed to officials that he had raped the female jogger and there was a DNA match. After serving 7 years in prison the convictions were vacated.
A lawsuit was filed which accused the city’s police and prosecutors of false arrest, malicious prosecution and a racially motivated conspiracy to deprive the men of their civil rights. In 2014 the city settled for $41 million (about $1 M for each year they served in jail.)
After a 2019 Netflix series on the trial, Elizabeth Lederer, the Central Park 5 prosecutor, resigned from her part-time lecturer post at Columbia Law School after a petition calling for her firing garnered over 10,000 signatures.
Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (1945-1946)
- Trial of major Nazi war criminals by an international tribunal after WWII.

Twelve trials, involving over a hundred defendants and several different courts, took place in Nuremberg from 1945 to 1949. By far the most attention has focused on the first Nuremberg trial of twenty-one major war criminals.

11 were executed in October 1946, 3 received life sentences, 4 received sentences from 10-20 years, 3 were acquitted.

Adolf Eichmann escaped to Argentina for ten years until Israeli Mossad agents abducted him in 1960 to stand trial in Jerusalem. He was executed in 1962.

Japanese Internment Camp Cases (1943-1944)
- Cases of Gordon Hirabyashi and Fred Korematsu; cases involved the constitutionality of the military orders removing American citizens of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific coast early in WWII and relocating them in internment camps for more than 2 years.

The Supreme Court justified relocation by stating that residents with ethnic affiliations with the enemy were a greater source of danger than those of different ancestry.

Justice Frank Murphy, one of the three dissenters from the policy, attacked the decision as racist. Justice Robert Jackson warned against such precedents. Circuit Court Judge William Denman attacked the decision by saying that it justified the gas chambers of Dachau.

Since WWII, the Japanese American Citizen's League (JACL), together with other Japanese Americans organizations, has won important political and legal victories.

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act allowing reimbursements. Some 23,689 claims were filed asking for $131,949,176. By the time these claims outlasted federal procedures which required itemized claims and receipts, the Federal Government recompensed Japanese Americans $38,000,000 -or about 29 cents for every dollar claimed.

In 1987, the U.S. house passed a law including a formal apology to Japanese Americans for the internment and providing $1.2 billion in compensation.
See the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation Web site

Trial of John Brown 1859
In October 1859 John Brown and a small group of abolitionists attacked the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, VA, as part of a plan to raise an army to end slavery. The attack failed and Brown and his followers were captured.
They were arraigned on three state charges: treason against Virginia, inciting slaves to rebellion, and murder.
He was convicted and hanged.
See The Life and trial of John Brown at Douglas O. Linder's famous Trials Page.

Sacco-Vanzetti Case 1920
A paymaster for a shoe company in South Braintree, Mass., and his guard were shot and killed by two men who escaped with over $15,000. Because Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had gone to a garage to claim a car that local police had connected with the crime, they were arrested. Both men were anarchists. On their arrest they made false statements; both carried firearms; neither, however, had a criminal record, nor was there any evidence of their having had any of the money. In July, 1921, they were found guilty after a trial in Dedham, Mass. and sentenced to death. Many then believed that the conviction was unwarranted and had been influenced by the reputation of the accused as radicals when antiradical sentiment was running high. Later much of the evidence against them was discredited. In 1927 when the Massachusetts supreme judicial court upheld the denial of a new trial, protest meetings were held and appeals were made to Gov. Alvan T. Fuller. He postponed the execution and appointed a committee to advise him. On Aug. 3 the governor announced that the judicial procedure in the trial had been correct. They were executed on Aug. 22, 1927. They were--and continue to be--widely regarded as martyrs. However, new ballistics tests conducted with modern equipment in 1961 seemed to prove conclusively that the pistol found on Sacco had been used to murder the guard.
Other Supreme Court Cases:
Dred Scott Case (1856-57)
In 1834, Dred Scott, a black slave, personal servant to Dr. John Emerson, a U.S. army surgeon, was taken by his master from Missouri, a slave state, to Illinois, a free state, and thence to Fort Snelling (now in Minnesota) in Wisconsin Territory, where slavery was prohibited by the Missouri Compromise. There he married before returning with Dr. Emerson to Missouri in 1838. After Emerson's death, Scott sued (1846) Emerson's widow for freedom for himself and his family (he had two children) on the ground that residence in a free state and then in a free territory had ended his bondage.

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the court's opinion that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Three of the justices also held that a black "whose ancestors were sold as slaves" was not entitled to the rights of a federal citizen and therefore had no standing in court. The court's verdict further inflamed the sectional controversy between North and South and was roundly denounced by the growing antislavery group in the North.

Scottsboro Case - 1931
Nine black youths were indicted at Scottsboro, Ala., on charges of having raped two white women in a freight car passing through Alabama. In a series of trials the youths were found guilty and sentenced to death or to prison terms of 75 to 99 years. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions ...

Famous Antitrust Cases:
  • Standard Oil - 1882
  • AT&T - 1982
  • Microsoft - 2001
Antitrust's Greatest Hits at

The Supreme Court Justices
Famous Trials: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights in Modern America
Supreme Court Decisions at
Famous Trials by Douglas O. Linder at the U. of Missouri, Kansas City. [Trials of Socrates (399 B.C.), Jesus (30 A. D.), Galileo (1633), Salem Witchcraft Trials (1692), Boston Massacre Trials (1770), Mutiny on the Bounty Court-Martial (1792), Burr Conspiracy (1807), Susan Anthony Trial (1873), Hauptmann (Lindbergh) Trial (1935), Alger Hiss Trials (1949-50), O. J. Simpson Trial (1995) and others]
Major Acts of Congress - Constitution - Amendments
Cases at

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