Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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. Certain cases within this category are widely know in legal studies and may be reviewed by law students even if they have been overturned by later decisions.
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.
Comparison with cause célèbre
A landmark decision differs from a cause célèbre in that a case that draws public attention may not involve any substantial changes to the law or creation of new law, whereas conversely a landmark decision may not impinge upon the consciousness of the general public.
The Lindbergh kidnapping was a sensational crime of the 1930s. One may call it a cause célèbre. The alleged kidnapper was captured, tried and executed several years after the crime. The correctness of that death sentence is in dispute even until today. However, the legal basis of the decision itself does not involve with too much theoretical dispute. The Congress of the United States later passed the "Lindbergh Law" that made cross-state kidnapping a federal crime (otherwise, it will be a state crime). This, arguably, could have been a "landmark decision", if the Supreme Court rather than the Congress made the change (this is nearly impossible - the only way such a change could be made by a court is if an existing law could reasonably be interpreted to mean Congress intended it to have such an effect).
Criminal law was originally reserved for the states in the U.S. The Congress, with the help from the Commerce Clause, later enacted numerous federal criminal statutes. If the Supreme Court one day finds the Commerce Clause not applicable to criminal laws, it will very likely to be called a landmark decision by legal professionals.
If, for whatever reason, Bruno Hauptmann was found not to be the person who killed Charles Lindbergh's son, his case would have been called cause célèbre in a way similar to the famous case of Alfred Dreyfus (see Dreyfus affair).
Landmark decisions in Australia
- Main articles: List of court cases#Australian_court_cases and List of Judicial Committees of the Privy Council & House of Lords cases
- In 1948 the High Court of Australia found that the Chifley government's legislation to nationalise Australia's private banks was unconstitutional.
- In 1951 the High Court of Australia found that Robert Menzies' attempts to ban the Communist Party of Australia were unconstitutional.
- In 1992 Eddie Mabo & Ors v The State of Queensland (No.2) invalidated the declaration of terra nullius.
Landmark decisions in Canada
- Main articles: List of Supreme Court of Canada cases and List of Judicial Committees of the Privy Council & House of Lords cases
Landmark decisions in the United Kingdom
- Main articles: List of court cases#United_Kingdom_court_cases, List of Judicial Committees of the Privy Council & House of Lords cases, and List of cases involving Lord Denning
Landmark decisions in the United Kingdom have usually been made by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, and in rare cases by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. Many have involved contributions from Lord Denning.
- Darcy v. Allein 77 Eng. Rep. 1260 (King’s Bench, 1603) (most widely know as The Case of Monopolies) was an early landmark case establishing that it was improper for any individual to be allowed to have a monopoly over a trade.
- Hadley v. Baxendale 9 Exch. 341 (1854) was a famous contract law case decided by the Court of Exchequer in England, which determined that a party who breaches a contract can only be held liable for the damages that could be foreseen at the time of the breach.
Landmark decisions in the United States
Landmark cases in the United States come most frequently (but not exclusively) from the United States Supreme Court. United States Courts of Appeal may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case, or adopts the holding of the court below. 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.
- Main articles: List of court cases#United_States_court_cases, List of United States Supreme Court cases, and Sex-related court cases in the United States
(Some of these decisions are from Northwestern University's list entitled Supreme Court's Greatest Hits)
Landmark decisions in U.S. Civil Rights
Discrimination based on race
- Dred Scott v. Sandford (which should have read Dred Scott v. Sanford) 60 U.S. 393 (1857), Blacks, whether free or slaves, cannot be US citizens. Consequently, they cannot sue in federal courts. Also, the federal government cannot forbid slavery in the western territories before they access statehood. The decision is voided by the subsequent Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.
- Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537 (1896), segregated facilities for blacks and whites are constitutional under the doctrine of Separate but equal, which held for close to 100 years.
- Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas) 344 U.S. 1 (1952), 344 U.S. 141 (1952), 347 U.S. 483 (1954), 349 U.S. 294 (1955), segregated schools in the several states are unconstitutional in violation of the 14th Amendment, overturning Plessy.
- Bolling v. Sharpe 347 U.S. 497 (1954), the companion case to Brown, which held that segregated schools in the District of Columbia violated the 5th Amendment.
- Adarand Constructors v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995) Race based discrimination, even in favor of minorities (affirmative action) is subject to strict judicial scrutiny.
- Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) a narrowly tailored use of race in student admission decisions may be permissible under Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause as a diverse student body is beneficial for all students (as hinted in Regents v. Bakke).
- Jones v. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968), The federal government may prohibit discrimination in housing by private parties under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), laws that prohibit marriage between races (anti-miscegenation statutes) are unconstitutional.
- Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) Race-Based set-asides in educational opportunities violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The decision leaves the door open to some race usage in admission decisions. See Grutter v. Bollinger.
Discrimination based on gender
- Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973) Sex-based discriminations are 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 unconsitutional.
- Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) Setting different minimum ages according to sex (female 18, male 21) to be allowed to buy beer is unconstitutional sex-based discrimination, contrary to the equal protection clause.
- United States v. Virginia , 518 U.S. 515 (1996) Virginia Military Institute, as a state-operated institution, cannot exclude women
Discrimination based on sexual orientation
- Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986) a state may declare the private practice in one's bedroom of certain sex acts to be a crime; ironically this statute that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court was later struck down by the Georgia State Supreme Court in the case of Powell v. Georgia (actually Powell v. State). In 2003, the Supreme Court revisited the Bowers decision and formally overturned it in Lawrence v. Texas.
- Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996) Law prohibiting granting homosexuals protection against discrimination violates equal protection clause
- Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) Texas law that prohibits gays from engaging in consensual sodomy in private is an unreasonable invasion of privacy, prohibited by Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.
- Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) married people are entitled to use contraception and making it a crime to sell them to same is unconstitutional. (A later case, Eisenstadt v. Baird , extended this to unmarried adults.)
- Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health , 497 U.S. 261 (1990) A right to die case. Family having requested the termination of life-sustaining treatments of their vegetative relative, the state may constitutionally oppose this request, for lack of evidence of a clear earlier wish by said relative. (The state later withdrew its objection.)
- Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) Pennsylvania's abortion law is unconstitutional and Roe v. Wade is still valid precedent.
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Most restrictions on 1st Trimester abortion are unconstitutional
- Vacco v. Quill , 521 U.S. 793 (1997) New York's prohibition on assisting suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause
- Washington v. Glucksberg , 521 U.S. 702 (1997) Washington's prohibition on assisting suicide is constitutional
Power of Congress to enforce civil rights
- City of Boerne v. Flores, Archbishop of San Antonio, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). In the context of Constitutional rights, Congress cannot invoke substantive change in Constitutional protections (here, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993), but can only enact legislation that remedies or prevents actual violations of existing rights.
- Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States , 379 U.S. 241 (1964), the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be applied to a place of public accommodation, prohibiting discrimination against blacks.
- Katzenbach v. McClung , 379 U.S. 294, 379 U.S. 802 (1964) the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce (Article I, section 8) extends to a restaurant not patronized by interstate travellers, as it serves food which has moved in interstate commerce. This ruling makes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to virtually all businesses.
Landmark decisions in U.S. Criminal Rights
Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
- Mapp v. Ohio 367 U.S. 643 (1961) Evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the United States Constitution is inadmissible in a criminal trial in a state court.
- Katz v. United States , 389 U.S. 347 (1967) Evidence obtained by wiretaping a public phonebooth without a warrant is not amissible in court, just as if a private phone line had been eavesdropped. The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.
- Vernonia School District v. Acton , 515 U.S. 646 (1995) Schools may require random drug testing
Right to an attorney
- Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963), anyone charged with a serious criminal offense has the right to an attorney and the state must provide one if they are unable to afford legal counsel.
- Escobedo v. Illinois 378 U.S. 478 (1964), a person in police custody has the right to speak to an attorney.
- Miranda v. Arizona (and Westover v. United States, Vignera v. New York, and California v. Stewart) 384 U.S. 436 (1966), police must advise criminal suspects of their rights under the Constitution to remain silent, to consult with a lawyer and to have one appointed if he is an indigent. The interrogation must stop it the suspect states he wishes to remain silent.
- Jurek v. Texas 428 U.S. 262 (1976), a "three-pronged" test for determining if the death penalty should be imposed is constitutional.
- Woodson v. North Carolina , 428 U.S. 280 (1976) North Carolina's mandatory death sentence statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments
- Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), the method then in effect for imposing the death penalty is unconstitutional.
- Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) Carefully drafted death penalty statutes may be constitutional. This ruling made executions possible again after Furman v. Georgia (see above) had stopped them.
- Proffitt v. Florida , 428 U.S. 242 (1976) Requirement of comparison of mitigating to aggravating factors to be used to impose death sentence is constitutional.
- Roberts v. Louisiana , 428 U.S. 325 (1976), 431 U.S. 633 (1977) Mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional
Landmark decisions in U.S. Federalism
- Marbury v. Madison 5 U.S. 137 (1803), a case which established the Supreme Court's power to strike down acts of United States Congress which were in conflict with the Constitution.
- Clinton v. Jones , 520 U.S. 681 (1997) The President of the United States has no immunity which would requires civil law litigation against them, for facts unrelated to their office (having occurred before he took office) to be stayed until the end of their term. This would deprive litigants of their Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
- Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S 304 (1816) federal courts may review State court decisions when they rest on federal law or the federal constitution. This decision provides for the uniform interpretation of federal law throughout the various states.
- McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819). The court stated the doctrine of implied powers, from the necessary and proper clause at Article I, section 8. To fulfill its goal, the federal government may use any means the constitution does not forbid (as opposed to only what the constitution explicitly allow, or only what is provaby necessary). State governement may in no way hinder the legitimate action of the federal governement (here, Maryland cannot levy a tax on the Bank of the United States). The court has varied in time on the extents of the implied powers, with a markedly narrower reading approximativley from the 1840's to the 1930's.
- Printz v. United States , 521 U.S. 898 (1997) Brady Act requiring state official to execute a federal law (in doing background checks for gun ownership) is unconstitutional.
- South Dakota v. Dole , 483 U.S. 203 (1987) Withholding of Federal highway funds to force state to raise drinking age to 21 is permissible
- U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton , 514 U.S. 779 (1995) State law cannot set term limits on members of Congress
- United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) The Commerce clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to regulate guns in state-operated schools
- United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) The President of the United States is not above the law
Landmark decisions in First Amendment Rights
Freedom of Speech and of the Press
- Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. , 501 U.S. 560 (1991) nude dancing is not protected by the 1st Amendment.
- Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) Mere advocacy of the use of force, or of violation of law (in this case, by a Ku Klux Klan leader) is protected by the 1st Amdendment free speech clause. Only inciting others to take direct and immediate unlawful action would be without constitutionnal protection.
- Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) One should not be convicted for wearing a jacket in a courtroom emblazoned with the phrase "Fuck the Draft" (in the Vietnam War context), as this is communication, protected by the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. The word "fuck" itself, clearly not directed at the hearer, is not in this particular instance a fighting word, and so not without constitutional protection.
- Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988) a public figure shown in a parody must show actual malice to claim he is libelled.
- Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) To be obscene, a work must fail several tests to determine its value to society, essentially having "no redeeming social value" to be so declared.
- New York Times v. Sullivan (and Abernathy v. Sullivan ), 376 U.S. 254 (1964) A public official, to prove they were libelled, must show not only that a statement is false, but also that it has been published with malicious intent.
- New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) Government's desire to keep so-called "Pentagon Papers" classified is insufficient to overcome 1st Amendment hurdle.
- Roth v. United States (and Alberts v. California), 354 U.S. 476 (1957) Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment
- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) Law prohibiting burning of the American flag is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment
- Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. Comm. School Dist. , 393 U.S. 503 (1969) Wearing armbands is a legitimate form of protest under the First Amendment
- Reno v. ACLU, 520 U.S. 1113 (1997) The Commmunications Decency Act, regulating certain content on the Internet, is so overbroad as to be an unconstutional restraint on the 1st Amendment.
Freedom of Religion
- Abington School Dist. v. Schempp (and Murray v. Curlett), 374 U.S. 203 (1963) First Amendment non establishment clause forbids state mandated reading of the bible, or recitation of the Lord's Prayer in public schools.
- Agostini v. Felton , 521 U.S. 203 (1997) A government program sending government employees to parochial schools (and also, to other private schools) specifically to provide remedial education to disadvantaged children (and not to all children) does not violate the First Amendment non establishment clause.
- Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993) Government must show a compelling interest to draw a statute targeting a religions ritual (as opposed to a statute which happens to burden the ritual, but is not directed at it). Failing to show such an interest, the prohibition of animal sacrifice is a violation of First Amendment free exercise clause.
- Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) Parents may remove children from public school for religious reasons
- Rosenberger v. University of Virginia , 515 U.S. 819 (1995) University can't fund secular groups from student dues, then exclude religious ones that also qualify under the same funding scheme.
- Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992) Public schools inviting clergy to read prayer at an official ceremony (here a graduation ceremony) violate 1st Amendment non-establishment clause.
Right to Assemble and Petition the Government
- Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of Boston , 515 U.S. 557 (1995) excluding a gay group from a public parade merely because the state doesn't like its opinion is unconstitutional.
Landmark Decisions in Other Areas of U.S. Law
- San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 1 (1973) use of property tax as means to finance public education is constitutional
- Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. 87 (1810), first time the Court struck down a State law as unconstitutional. A State legislature (in this case, Georgia) can repeal a previous, corruptly made law (in this case, a land grant), but not void valid contracts made under this law.
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