Landmark Supreme Court Cases

Learn how everyday Americans have made their voices heard by going before the nation’s highest court.

In 2017, the National Constitution Center featured the following artifacts in its main exhibition—selections from its own collection and institutions nationwide to highlight landmark Supreme Court cases.

Notice for Date of Deposition in Dred Scott Case, 1847, Original Source: Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
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Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) This notice indicated the date for taking statements in the case of Dred Scott and his wife Harriet, who were suing for their freedom after residing in free territory. These depositions did not convince the jury of their free status. Eventually, the judge granted a new trial, and the case was taken to the Supreme Court. The justices ultimately denied the Scotts' request for freedom.

Illustration of New Orleans Slaughterhouses, ca. 1870s, Original Source: The Historic New Orleans Collection
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The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) Used in the Slaughterhouse Cases, this illustration identified the location of slaughterhouses along the Mississippi River. After Louisiana granted a monopoly over the meat-slaughtering industry to one company, local butchers argued that the state had violated individual rights protected under the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the monopoly.

World War I Anti-Draft Pamphlet, Charles Schenck, 1917, Original Source: U.S. National Archives
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Schenck v. United States (1919) “Help us wipe out this stain upon the Constitution!” Charles Schenck, a Socialist Party leader in Philadelphia, distributed this leaflet to encourage repeal of the draft. Schenck was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, a law that restricted individuals from undermining the war effort. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld his conviction.

"Go" Gameboard from Japanese Internment Camp, Fuju Sasaki, ca. 1942-45, Original Source: National Constitution Center
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Korematsu v. United States (1944) While interned in an Arizona relocation center, California resident Fuju Sasaki handmade this game of strategy. His family was forced to relocate in 1942, when Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of individuals of Japanese descent. The Korematsu case challenged this executive order, but the Supreme Court upheld the president’s wartime decision.

NAACP Press Release for Brown v. Board of Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1951, Original Source: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
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Brown v. Board of Education (1954) In this press release, the NAACP announced its decision to appeal the Topeka, Kansas, case in which a federal court upheld segregated school facilities. Along with the NAACP, the father of third-grader Linda Brown challenged the ruling and took it to the Supreme Court. The case resulted in a unanimous decision that struck down school segregation.

Draft Dissent for Mapp v. Ohio, John Marshall Harlan, 1961, Original Source: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
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Mapp v. Ohio (1961) In Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court extended Fourth Amendment protections to criminal defendants in state trials. Justice Harlan wrote the dissenting opinion, the draft of which is seen here. He believed the Court was misguided in its ruling on unlawful searches and seizures, arguing that the actual issue concerned the First Amendment, not the Fourth.

Letter to ACLU Legal Director, Clarence Gideon, 1962, Original Source: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
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Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) From prison, Clarence Gideon wrote this letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding his legal representation before the Supreme Court. Gideon was denied an attorney during his original trial for burglary, so he asked the Court to hear his case. They agreed, ruling that defendants like Gideon must also be guaranteed the right to counsel in state courts.

Miranda Rights Card Used by New Jersey Police, ca. 2000, Original Source: National Constitution Center
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Miranda v. Arizona (1966) Carried by policemen, this card includes the “Miranda warning,” a result of Miranda v. Arizona. The case involved Ernesto Miranda, a suspect who was interrogated by police and provided a confession—without being read his rights and without an attorney present. The Supreme Court ruled that criminal suspects in custody must be informed of their Fifth Amendment rights.

Jurisdictional Statement for Loving v. Virginia, 1966, Original Source: Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University
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Loving v. Virginia (1967) Compiled for the appeal of Loving, this statement identified the key questions in the case involving an interracial couple who married in Washington, D.C. Upon returning to Virginia, they were arrested and jailed. The Supreme Court found interracial marriage bans to be unconstitutional—a unanimous decision handed down 50 years ago in 2017.

Armband Protesting the Vietnam War, ca. 1967, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) Members of the Tinker family donned this armband to protest the Vietnam War. In a small act that led to a landmark case, eighth-grader Mary Beth Tinker wore a similar armband to her public school in 1965. She and four other students were suspended. Tinker’s parents filed suit, arguing the school violated their free speech rights. The Supreme Court ultimately agreed.

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Buttons, ca. 1970s, Original Source: National Constitution Center
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Roe v. Wade (1973) The Roe v. Wade decision sparked intense public debate, as shown by these buttons representing the pro-life and pro-choice movements. In this controversial case, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment protected privacy rights—including a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was developed and designed by the National Constitution Center.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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