The Most Important Supreme Court Cases Events
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The Most Important Supreme Court Cases

Quick: Can you name the most important Supreme Court cases in U.S. history? Yes? Well, can you explain them, in a nutshell, to anyone who asks? Impress your friends with your legal history knowledge by perusing this list of some of the biggest, most influential, far-reaching cases ever decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. Didn't see what you think is the most important case? Let us know in the comments!

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    This landmark case in 1803 established the United States' system of judicial review and directly contributed to the government's system of checks and balances of power. The Supreme Court addressed a legal fight involving William Marbury, who was picked (last minute) by outgoing President John Adams to become a District of Columbia justice of the peace. When Thomas Jefferson became the next president, he ordered his Secretary of State, James Madison, not to commission him. The high Court ruled that they really didn't have a say in this matter - but the case pointed out some very, very big loopholes in the system. As a result, the Supreme Court established so-called "judicial review" - offering the opportunity to revisit existing laws to see if they needed to be reworked.

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    1954's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case saw the Supreme Court ruling that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students was wholly unconstitutional. The decision was instrumental - and, in part, gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement.

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    We all know that criminal defendants have the right to a defense attorney - but that wasn't always the case. In 1963, the Supreme Court addressed the case of convicted Florida felon Clarence Earl Gideon. After being denied free legal counsel, Gideon defended himself at his trial - and was eventually convicted. The high Court ruled that the conviction should be overturned, determining that all defendants have a right to counsel in order to get a fair trial.

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    Miranda Rights. We've all heard of them, possibly some of us have heard them read TO us. How did this all come about? Ernesto Arturo Miranda. He was arrested in Arizona and claimed that the authorities who questioned him didn't properly inform him of his rights - specifically, the right against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney if he wanted one. The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Miranda in 1966 - ruling that police didn't inform him of his rights. Today, all police are required to read the Miranda Rights to those they arrest:

    "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?"

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    The Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in the Roe v. Wade case remains one of the most controversial in U.S. history. Jane Roe (Norma McCorvey) was a pregnant Texas woman who sued the Dallas County D.A., saying the state law that made abortion a felony violated her rights to privacy. The Supreme Court ultimately decided that a woman's decision to have a first trimester abortion is within her constitutional right to privacy. State laws prohibiting first trimester abortions were abolished.

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    In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that slave Dred Scott was not a United States citizen and thus, he couldn't sue for his freedom in federal court. Scott claimed that because the family he was with took him to a free state (Illinois, one that did not recognize slavery), he should be freed. The high Court said it didn't have jurisdiction over the case, which brought the issue of slavery even more to the forefront than it already was at the time. This decision was much larger than just one person - this ruling excluded all African-Americans, free or slaves, from having any Constitutional rights (including the right to sue).

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