What is a landmark case?
"A landmark decision is the outcome of a legal case (often thus referred to as a landmark case) that establishes a precedent that either substantially changes the interpretation of the law or that simply establishes new case law on a particular issue....
The term 'landmark decision' is not a formal legal term but a colloquialism, however it is in widespread use amongst legal professionals - over 5,000 published opinions of lower courts can be found identifying some precedent as a landmark decision in the field of law being addressed." Wikipedia
To demonstrate the relevance of the landmark cases in the context of U.S. legal history, we've listed "authority rankings" for each case. "Authority rankings" were developed by James Fowler, PhD, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, for all Supreme Court decisions by considering "the number of times [a case] is cited and the quality of the cases that cite it."
According to Dr. Fowler, "authority rankings" correspond to "authority scores," which are significant because "cases with high authority scores are much more likely than others to appear on lists of 'landmark' cases chosen by legal experts and political scientists for their 'importance' and 'salience.' This method yields rankings that conform closely to evaluations by legal experts, and even predicts which cases they will identify as important in the future' Authority scores corroborate qualitative assessments of which issues and cases the [Supreme] Court prioritizes and how these change over time."
Dr. Fowler analyzed more than 30,000 cases from the year 1754 to 2002. Based on the authority scores, he assigned an authority ranking between 1 and 20,945. The higher the ranking, the more importance the case has as a landmark decision. The Supreme Court case with the highest authority score (Cantwell v. Connecticut, 1940) has the highest authority ranking (1); the cases with lower authority scores have the lowest ranking (20,945). The Authority of Supreme Court Precedent (PDF) 1.9 MB
Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652
Freedom of speech and of the press are "fundamental personal rights and 'liberties' protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the state."
Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45
The Court ruled that indigent defendants, when charged with a capital crime, must be assigned competent counsel by the court.
De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 533
The Court extended to the states the federal protection of the right of peaceful assembly for lawful discussion.
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1
The Court upheld a New Jersey statute which authorized reimbursement to parents of expenses related to the transportation of children to schools including parochial schools.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 347 U.S. 483
School segregation denies equal protection of the law to black students and thus is unconstitutional. The case overturned Plessy v. Fergusson which established the doctrine of "separate but equal."
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476
Obscenity and the publication of obscene material are not protected by the First Amendment.
Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116
Government cannot deny a passport to a citizen for the reason that applicant might have been a member of the Communist Party because "the right to travel is a part of the 'liberty' of which a citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment."
Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643
The Court implemented the "exclusionary rule" which states that "all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Federal Constitution is inadmissible in a criminal trial in a state court."
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421
The requirement by the state that a non-denominational prayer be recited in public schools at the beginning of each school day, is unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335
The court must assign an attorney in a criminal trial if defendant cannot afford one because the "assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial."
Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203
The First Amendment Establishment Clause forbids state mandated reading of the Bible or recitation of prayer in public school.
New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254
To prove libel, a public official must prove that the statement is false and that it was published with a "malicious intent."
Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478
Where a police investigation has pased the stage of "general inquiry," the suspect has the right to speak to an attorney and any confession obtained during the interrogation without the presence of an attorney is not admissible at trial.
Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479
In stating a "right to privacy," the Court determined that a married couple's decision to use birth control was a personal decision and not subject to government regulation.
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
In order to safeguard the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, the police must advise criminal suspects, prior to interrogation, that anything they say can be used against them in court, that they have the rights to remain silent, to consult with a lawyer and to have one appointed if they are indigent. The interrogation must stop if a suspect wishes to remain silent and, if a lawyer has been requested, until the attorney is present.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1
The "stop and frisk" procedure is akin to a "search and seizure." Seized evidence will be admissible if the "stop and frisk" was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Jones v. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409
Since the Civil Rights Act of 1968 does not apply only to state actions, it allows the federal government to prohibit discrimination in housing by private parties.
Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97
The Court overturned an Arkansas law, which prohibited the teaching of evolution because the theory of evolution conflicted with the account of the origin of man set forth in the Book of Genesis, on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503
The Court ruled that students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War was symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.
Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444
Mere advocacy of the use of force, or of violation of law is protected by the First Amendment free speech clause. States can proscribe advocacy only when it is directed at producing "imminent lawless action" and is likely to produce such action.
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15
Wearing a jacket with the words "F*** the Draft" in a courthouse, does not amount to offensive conduct, and the conduct is therefore within the protection of the First Amendment.
New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713
The Court lifted a temporary injunction enjoining the publication of the so-called "Pentagon Papers," holding that their publication was within the protection of the First Amendment and would not endanger the safety of American forces.
Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238
The imposition and carrying out of the death penalty was held to constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments because the decision was left to the uncontrolled discretion of judges or juries and was done in "an arbitrary, discriminatory, and capricious manner."
Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677
Sex-based discrimination is inherently suspect. A statute giving benefits to the spouses of male but not female members of the uniformed services (on the assumption that only the former were dependent) is unconstitutional.
Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15
The publication of obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. A work is obscene when "'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest and (...) [that it] lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683
In a criminal trial "absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets," an absolute presidential executive privilege from judicial process does not exist.
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1
The Court stated that "reasonable restrictions" on individual, corporate and group contributions to political candidates were permissible but disallowed limits on campaign expenditures because they "place substantial and direct restrictions" on protected political expression.
Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539
In a criminal trial prior restraint on the press can be used only after less restraining measures to protect a right of fair trial have been found inadequate.
Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190
Setting an older age limit for the purchase of alcohol for males than for females constitutes gender-based discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause.
Linmark v. Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85
A township ordinance prohibiting the posting of real estate 'For Sale' and 'Sold' signs for the purpose of stemming what the township perceived as the flight of white homeowners from a racially integrated community held to violate the First Amendment.
McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618
A Tennessee law barring members of the clergy from public office was overturned on the ground that the law was in violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion because it conditioned the right to free exercise of religion on the surrender of the right to seek office.
Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265
Admissions to schools based on racial quotas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, however race may be considered in admission decisions to achieve the compelling state interest of integrating the student body.
Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668
The Establishment Clause does not prohibit the display of a nativity scene in a municipal Christmas display.
New Jersey v. T.L.O., 468 U.S. 1214
The search of a student's purse was not in violation of the Fourth Amendment because the school's officials had "reasonable suspicion" to believe that the search will prove that the student violated the school's rules.
Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38
Alabama's statute allowing time for "voluntary prayer" constituted endorsement of religion by the state and was therefore unconstitutional.
Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578
A state cannot condition teaching evolution on the teaching of "creation science" at the same time because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260
A school does not have to tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational goal, even when similar speech could not be censored outside the school.
Hustler v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46
Public figures cannot recover damages for libel and intentional infliction of emotional harm without showing that the publication contained a false statement of fact made with actual malice.
Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397
Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Flag burning is symbolic speech.
Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, 492 U.S. 573
The Court upheld the right of states to celebrate the Christmas holiday with a joint Menorah and Christmas tree display, but a nativity scene could not be displayed alone on the courthouse steps.
United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259
The Fourth Amendment does not apply to the search and seizure by United States agents of property owned by a nonresident alien and located in a foreign country. The reference in the Constitution to "the people" means all citizens and legal aliens while in the United States.
Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872
Oregon had a compelling state interest in prohibiting sacramental peyote use, and thus could deny unemployment benefits to anyone who was dismissed from a job for smoking peyote.
Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261
A state may constitutionally oppose a family's request to terminate the life sustaining treatments of their vegetative relative for lack of evidence of a clear earlier wish by the sick relative.
Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the use of peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors solely on the basis of race.
R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377
The Court overturned the conviction of a juvenile accused of burning a cross in the yard of a black family, on the grounds that Minnesota Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance prohibited speech on the basis of its content and constituted a viewpoint discrimination.
Lee v. Weisman , 505 U.S. 577
Clergy-led prayer as part of an official public school graduation ceremony is in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833
Consideration of the fundamental constitutional question resolved by Roe v. Wade and its holding are reaffirmed and Pennsylvania's abortion law is declared unconstitutional.
Rosenberg v. University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819
When a public university provides funds for the printing costs of a variety of student publications, it cannot withhold the funds to a students' group that would otherwise qualify on the ground that their newspaper has religious content.
Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620
State Constitution precluding protection of the law to a person based on their "homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships," is unconstitutional.
United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515
The state operated Virginia Military Institute's categorical exclusion of women denies equal protection to women.
Schenck v. Pro Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357
The injunction provision imposing a "fixed buffer zone" limitations is constitutional, because it protects the government's interest in public safety but the "floating buffer zone," limiting demonstrators' access within fifteen feet of people or cars, violates the First Amendment.
Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305
"Georgia's requirement that candidates for state office pass a drug test does not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches."
Agostini v. Felton, 521 U.S. 203
A federally funded program providing supplemental, remedial instruction to disadvantaged children on a neutral basis is not invalid under the Establishment Clause when such instruction is given on the premises of sectarian schools by government employees under a program containing safeguards.
City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507
The enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was not a proper exercise of Congress' enforcement power because it contradicts vital principles necessary to maintain separation of powers and the federal state balance.
Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844
The Communication Decency Act regulating content on the Internet is overbroad and constitute an unconstitutional restraint on the First Amendment.
Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113
Police searches of vehicles on routine traffic stops constitute "unreasonable search and seizure."
Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, 525 U.S. 182
States can not require that petition circulators be registered voters, wear name badges, and disclose information about themselves and their salaries because such requirements constitute unconstitutional limit on speech.
Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41
Chicago's Gang Congregation Ordinance which prohibits "criminal street gang members" from loitering in public places fails to give the ordinary citizen adequate notice of what is forbidden and what is permitted and is thus unconstitutionally vague.
Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793
Federal provision providing for equipment to public, private and parochial school under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is constitutional.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640
Forcing the Boy Scouts to admit a homosexual as a scout leader would violate the private organization's right of freedom of association and of "expressive association."
Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428
A constitutional decision of the US Supreme Court may not be in effect overruled by an Act of Congress.
Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32
Indianapolis' checkpoint programs violated the Fourth Amendment because their primary purpose was indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control and did not fit into the established exceptions to individualized suspicion.
Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27
Use of thermal-imaging devices to monitor heat emissions from a private residence in order to monitor activities occurring inside the home is a Fourth Amendment 'search,' and it is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.
Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67
Public hospital testing of pregnant women, without their consent, for cocaine use and reporting the results to police officials is an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Board of Education of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822
School district's requirement of drug tests for all students who wants to participate in extra-curricular activities is a "reasonable mean of furthering the School District's important interest in preventing and deterring drug use among its school-children."
United States v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194
The federally mandated use of internet-filtering software in public libraries, to prevent viewing of pornography by minors does not violate the First Amendment rights of library patrons.
Virginia v. Hicks, 539 U.S. 113
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority policy, authorizing the police to serve notice or arrest any person lacking "a legitimate business or social purpose" on the low-income housing development was not overbroad and did not violate the First Amendment because it targeted all trespassers equally.
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558
The Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause.