- 1Up 17Down 4We 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.
- 2Up 12Down 1This 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.
- 3Up 13Down 21954'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.
- 4Up 8Down 0In 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).
- 5Up 10Down 2The 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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