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 substantially change the interpretation of existing law. Such a decision may settle the law in more than one way:

  • establishing a significant new legal principle or concept;
  • overturning prior precedent based on its negative effects or flaws in its reasoning;
  • 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, such as in Smith v. Collin. 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 rightsEdit

Discrimination based on race and ethnicityEdit

Discrimination based on sexEdit

Discrimination based on sexual orientationEdit

Birth control and abortionEdit

End of lifeEdit

Power of Congress to enforce civil rightsEdit

Other areasEdit

Criminal lawEdit

Fourth Amendment Rights: Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizuresEdit

Right to an attorneyEdit

Other rights regarding counselEdit

  • 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 silentEdit


Detainment of terrorism suspectsEdit

Capital punishmentEdit

Other criminal sentencesEdit

  • Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972) The Supreme Court extended Fourteenth Amendment due process protection to the parole revocation process, hold that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a "neutral and detached" hearing body such as a parole board to give an evidentiary hearing prior to revoking the parole of a defendant and spelled out the minimum due process requirements for the revocation hearing.
  • Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973) The Supreme Court issued a substantive ruling regarding the rights of individuals in violation of a probation or parole sentence. It held that a previously sentenced probationer is entitled to a hearing when his probation is revoked. More specifically the Supreme Court held that a preliminary and final revocation of probation hearings are required by Due Process; the judicial body overseeing the revocation hearings shall determine if the probationer or parolee requires counsel; denying representation of counsel must be documented in the record of the Court.
  • Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000) Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004) Mandatory state sentencing guidelines are the statutory maximum for purposes of applying the Apprendi rule.
  • Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (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. 460 (2012) A sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole may not be a mandatory sentence for juvenile offenders.
  • Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) The Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense.

Other areasEdit


Federal Indian lawEdit

First Amendment rightsEdit

General aspectsEdit

  • National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977) If a state seeks to impose an injunction in the face of a substantial claim of First Amendment rights, it must provide strict procedural safeguards, including immediate appellate review. Absent such immediate review, the appellate court must grant a stay of any lower court order restricting the exercise of speech and assembly rights.

Freedom of speech and of the pressEdit

Freedom of religionEdit

Freedom of associationEdit

Freedom of petitionEdit

Second Amendment rightsEdit

Third Amendment rightsEdit

  • Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982) Members of the National Guard qualify as "soldiers" under the Third Amendment. The Third Amendment is incorporated against the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And the protection of the Third Amendment applies to anyone who, within their residence, has a legal expectation of privacy and a legal right to exclude others from entry into the premises. This case is notable for being the only case based on Third Amendment claims that has been decided by a federal appeals court.

Executive powerEdit



Other areasEdit


  1. ^ Savage, Charlie (June 26, 2018). "Korematsu, Notorious Supreme Court Ruling on Japanese Internment, Is Finally Tossed Out". The New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2018. But on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority upheld President Trump’s ban on travel into the United States by citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. also seized the moment to finally overrule Korematsu.
  2. ^ de Vogue, Ariane (June 26, 2018). "Supreme Court finally rejects infamous Korematsu decision on Japanese-American internment". CNN. Retrieved June 26, 2018. Roberts was troubled enough with the comparison, however, that he did something that no party involved in the travel ban case had expressly asked for: He announced that the Supreme Court was overruling Korematsu.
  3. ^ Hartman, G. R., Mersky, R. M., & Tate, C. L. (2004). Landmark Supreme Court cases: The most influential decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Facts on File. pp. 92–93. ISBN 978-0-8160-2452-0.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ 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" (PDF). United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (via the Federation of American Scientists). Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  5. ^ Brossard, Dominique; Shanahan, James; Clint Nesbitt, T. (2007). The Media, the Public and Agricultural Biotechnology. ISBN 9781845932039.
  6. ^ "Diamond v. Chakrabarty: A Retrospective on 25 Years of Biotech Patents" (PDF).
  7. ^ Supreme Court Decision on Justia