U.S. supreme Court cases Study Guide

SB CH. 4, 5, and Others*

(In Order of Date) 10-10--2006



*A. Marbury v. Madison (1803) SB *Ch. 2 p.41, 12 pp. 306-307*


This began as a civil case at the federal level. This decision gave the power of judicial review to the federal courts. Judicial review means courts can rule on the constitutionality of federal and state laws. The plaintiff, William Marbury (F), was supposed to receive one of Adam’s last appointment commissions before his presidential term was over. He sued Secretary of State James Madison (D-R) to force delivery of his appointment as Justice of Peace in Washington D.C., after the new President, Thomas Jefferson (D-R), had ordered Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver it.


Chief Justice John Marshall (F) wrote the decision that denied Marbury’s request because part of the law (Judiciary Act of 1789) which gave the U.S. Supreme Court power added powers was unconstitutional. He said that Marbury had the right to his commission, but not to bring an action under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. This decision strengthened the judicial branch of the federal government by giving it the power of judicial review.


Key People:

(1) Adams (Federalist)

(2) Marbury (Federalist)

(3) Marshall (Federalist)

(4) Jefferson (Democratic-Republican)

(5) Madison (first Federalist, later Democratic-Republican)



A1.     Was this a civil or criminal case? 

A2.     At what level of government did the case begin?

A3.     Who was the plaintiff?

A4.     What is judicial review?

A5.     Who was the Chief Justice who wrote the decision?

A6.     What party was President Adams?

A7.     Which President signed Marbury’s commission to appoint him to be a justice of the peace? 

A8.     What party was President Jefferson?

A9.     Who was the President when this case was decided?

A10.   What party was the President when this case was decided?

A11.   Who did President Jefferson appoint as his Secretary of State?

A12.   What was James Madison’s title under President Jefferson?

A13.   What law was ruled unconstitutional?

A14.   Who did President Adams appoint as Chief Justice?

A15.   What was John Marshall’s title under President Adams?

A16.   Who won the case?



B. Dred Scott v. San(d)ford (1857) SB Ch. 5 pp. 98-99


It was civil case at a federal level (Supreme Court case). The plaintiff, Dred Scott, sewed his owner for his liberty because he had been living in a free state for seven years. Chief Justice Taney ruled that the Missouri Compromise of 1820 was unconstitutional because congress “no power to exclude slavery from any territory because it violates the Fifth Amendment by taking “property”. Such a case became highly controversial, because it led to the Civil War.


This case is a civil case at federal level. This decision was the second time that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress unconstitutional. A slave named Dred Scott to sue for his freedom because his owner had taken him to stay for many years in a territory declared free of slavery by Congress. Pro-Southern Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that as a slave, Scott had no right to sue in federal court and that temporary residence in a free state did not make a slave free, and that the Missouri Compromise (1820) had been unconstitutional because Congress did not have the power to exclude slavery from any territory because it violated the Fifth Amendment by taking “property”. This decision increased the tension between the North and the South and lead to the Civil War.



B1.   Is this a civil or criminal case and at what level was it filed?

B2.   Why is this case very important?

B3.   Who was the Chief Justice and what did he rule unconstitutional?

B4.   Name the plaintiff and the defendant. 



C. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) SB Ch. 5 p.100


Plessy was convicted in Louisiana state court of violating a Jim Crow state law that required separate facilities for people of different races on trains in Louisiana.  Plessy claimed that the law was unconstitutional under the Civil War Amendments, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen, passed after 1865 when Lincoln died and the Civil War ended.  He felt that the “equal protection of the laws” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected him.  In an 8 to 1 decision, the majority of U.S. Supreme Court members decided that “separate but equal facilities were constitutional under the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment.  This decision established the precedent that protected laws and customs requiring segregation by race in public facilities until this decision was overturned in 1954 in Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.



C1.     What was the name of the plaintiff?

C2.     Who was the defendant in Plessy v. Ferguson?

C3.     Did this case begin under criminal or civil law?

C4.     What Constitutional amendments did Plessy claim protected him?

C5      After what year were the amendments passed?

C6.     What war ended in that year?

C7.     What president died in that year?

C8.     What amendment includes the words “equal protection of the laws”?

C9.     What precedent was established by Plessy v. Ferguson?  

C10.   What was required by the Jim Crow laws allowed under the precedent?

C11.   In what year was the precedent established by Plessy v. Ferguson overturned?

C12.   In what case was the precedent overturned?



D. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) SB Ch. 5 p.102


A state law prohibited the plaintiff, Linda Brown, an African American student, from attending a white school that was much closer to her home. This civil case against the defendant, the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, quickly acquired the interest of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and appointed Thurgood Marshall, to be Ms. Brown’s lawyer. The case challenged and later reversed the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) *SB p.100, which had established the precedent that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional under the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment.


This case originally began in the federal District Court and moved to the U.S Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren (R), decided that discrimination on the basis of race was unconstitutional in determining the school one attends, therefore, separate facilities for white and minority students were not equal. The decision was unanimous with a 9-0 ruling for the plaintiff. This history-making case helped begin the Civil Rights Movement led in part by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and allowed the integration of schools and many other public facilities, and to affirmative action programs.



D1.     What was the name of the plaintiff?

D2.     Who was the defendant in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)?

D3.     Was this a criminal or civil case?

D4.     What group provided the services of Ms. Brown’s lawyer?

D5      Who was the plaintiff's attorney in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)?

D6.     At what level of government was it filed?

D7.     Who was Chief Justice that decided Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)?

D8.     What precedent was established by Plessy v. Ferguson?

D9.     What previous case was reversed in 1954?

D10.    By what vote was the ruling?

D11.    Was the ruling unanimous or by a majority?

D12.    What case led to the integration of schools and other public facilities?

D13.    Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) led to what movement?  

D14.    In which court did this case begin?



E. Mapp v. Ohio (1961) SB Ch. 4 p. 95


Dollree Mapp was convicted for possession of pornography after pornography was seized from her home with out a warrant. This case began as a criminal case. The plaintiff Dollree Mapp challenged the defendant the state of Ohio. The U.S. Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule, which eliminated the use of evidence, in a courtroom, that was obtained by search and seizure without a valid warrant). Until Mapp v. Ohio (1961), state and local governments had not been subjected to this rule, now they must follow it.


The U.S. Supreme Court created the exclusionary rule in federal cases so that information obtained illegally by law enforcement officers cannot be presented as evidence. Therefore, evidence found as a result of an illegal search and seizure is not admitted to courts



E1.     What is the exclusionary rule?

E2.     What must now obey the enforcement rule?

E3.     Was this case a criminal case or civil case?

E4.     Who is the plaintiff?

E5.     Who is the defendant?

E6.     Usually, evidence gathered from a search and seizure without a valid warrant can or cannot be admitted to the Court.



F. Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) SB Ch. 4 p. 92


This court case started as a criminal case. This court case stated that felony defendant has the right to counsel (to speak with and be represented by a lawyer) even if the defendant cannot afford one, based on part of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – the right to counsel. The highest court or the judicial branch at the federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled that at felony defendant has the right to an attorney even if he or she is unable to pay for one.



F1.     What was the result of this trial?

F2.     Was this a criminal case or a civil case?

F3.     Which U.S. Constitutional Amendment does this case relate to?

F4.     What branch of the federal level of government ruled on Gideon v. Wainwright?

F5.     What is the highest court at the federal level?

F6.     Does every felony defendant within the U.S. have a right to counsel?




G. Miranda v. Arizona (1966) Ch.4 SB pp. 92-93


This court case resulted in the “Miranda” rights. The person detained by the authorities (officers of the law) is to be told their rights. “1. You have the right to remain silent. 2. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. 3. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one may be provided for you. You may consult with an attorney before being questioned.


This began as a criminal case. The plaintiff Ernesto Miranda challenged the, the defendant, State of Arizona. As a result of this case, the defendant / suspect must be given a “Miranda” warning before he can be questioned by authorities. Sixth amendment- “the right to counsel” and Fifth Amendment- “The right to remain silent” was found to be required by part of the Constitution that protects the rights of the accused.



G1.     Was the State of Arizona a defendant or plaintiff in the Miranda v. Arizona?

G2.     Did this case start as a criminal case or a civil case?

G3.     What are the three Miranda rights?

G4.     What must the defendant be reminded of before questioning by authorities?

G6.     What does the Fifth Amendment states?

G7.     What does the Sixth Amendment state?

G8.     People detained by the authorities (officers of the law) are to be told their _____?



H. Pentagon Papers case (New York Times v. United States). (1971) SB Ch. 4 p. 77


The New York Times and the Washington Post obtained copies of some Pentagon files in which there was information on decisions and U.S involvement in the Vietnam War. The Supreme Courts decided with a divided (6 to 3) rule that the government could not censor the press if it does not threaten national security. The New York Times are the plaintiffs and the United States are the defendants in the civil case of New York Time v. United States or otherwise known as the “Pentagon Papers case.”



H1.     What two sources obtained copies of Pentagon files?

H2.     Pentagon files discuss what country in which war?

H3.     The Supreme Court ruled with how many members voting for the majority and how many members dissenting?

H4.     Who was the plaintiff?

H5.     Who was the defendant?

H6.     Was the New York Times the plaintiff or defendant?

H7.     Was the United States the plaintiff or defendant?

H8.     Was New York Times v. United States a civil case or criminal case?

H9.     What is another name for New York Times v. United States?



J. Roe v. Wade (1973) SB Ch. 4 pp. 87-88


Roe v. Wade is a civil case. The Supreme Court at the federal level decided with a pro-choice 5-4 majority vote. It is this controversial decision that the Court uses to define legal abortions: In the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy she can decide to have a legal abortion. In the second trimester a state can put restrictions on the procedure in order to protect the health of the woman. In the third trimester the state can prohibit abortion altogether.


Roe legalizes abortion within the first tree moths of pregnancy. State laws banning most abortions violate the right to privacy found in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. This decision has brought about much conflict between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” groups.


Political party note: The first woman Supreme Court Justice, Republican Sandra Day O’Connor voted to preserve the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy along with the two Democratic members of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, at that time, the court’s newest member.



J1.    Was this a civil or criminal case?

J2.    What was the ruling?

J3.    What two interest groups were in conflict?

J4.    State laws prohibiting abortion may violate what part of the U.S. Constitution?

J5.    What court, at what level decided this controversial decision?

J6.    What vote extended the right to privacy to cover abortion?

J7.    In what trimester can a state ban all abortions?

J8.    In what trimester can a woman have a legal abortion without restriction?

J9.    What Republican woman justice voted to preserve the right to terminate a pregnancy?

J10.   What two Democratic justices voted to preserve the right to terminate a pregnancy?

J11.   What two women Justices voted to preserve the right to terminate a pregnancy?



K Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) SB Ch. 5 pp.114-115,116


Alan Bakke, the plaintiff in the civil case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke sued the defendant, the Regents of the University of California claiming he was a victim of discrimination. Bakke claimed he was denied admission to the medical school at the University of California at Davis twice even though his test scores were higher then those admitted. At least five Supreme Court members decided in favor of Bakke. The Court stated that the medical school could not uphold an affirmative action program based on quotas.


Affirmative action refers to procedures that attempt to correct the effects of past discrimination against women and minority groups.  The decision in this case allowed affirmative action programs to continue as long as they were not based on quotas.



K1.     Was this a civil or criminal case?

K2.     Who was the plaintiff?

K3.     Who was the defendant?

K4.     Who won the case?

K5.     What is a set of procedures that attempts to correct the effect of past discrimination?

K6.     Did this case allow affirmative action programs to continue as long as they were not based on quotas?



*L. United States v. Nixon (R) (1974) SB *Ch.10 pp. 258-259*


This was a civil case. During the Watergate investigation, Nixon (R) was brought to court because he refused to turn over the tapes from the Oval Office for further investigation. Nixon claimed executive privilege which excused him from handing over the tapes. The court finally received the desired tapes; they were, however, edited. After it obtained the complete tapes, Nixon decided to resign before he could be impeached. The president is not above the law. Executive privilege does not apply to cases where a crime may have been committed.



L1.    Was this a civil or criminal case?

L2.    What is executive privilege?

L3.    Who was the defendant?



*M. McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) SB *Ch.3 pp. 51, 53, 55-56*


This was a civil case that resulted from a tax Maryland imposed tax on the Baltimore branch of the bank chartered by Congress.  Maryland was attempting to put the branch out of business.  James William McCulloch refused to pay the Maryland tax.  McCulloch was sued in state court where he lost.


The federal government appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  McCulloch won the case in the U.S. Supreme Court.  The decision established the supremacy of the national government over state governments. “In deciding this case, Chief Justice John Marshall and his colleagues held that Congress had certain implied powers in addition to the enumerated powers found in the Constitution.  The case was significant because it enabled the national government to grow.”



M1.   Was the case civil or criminal?

M2.   Who won the case?

M3.   Who was the defendant?

M4.   Who was the plaintiff?

M5.   Which Chief Justice decided the case?

M6.   Why was the case significant?