Uploaded by Rashid Ali


APUSH Supreme Court Cases
Studying these Supreme Court cases in the context of US
History can help you prepare for the AP US History exam.
The Marshall Court (1801-1835)
John Marshall, confirmed as Chief Justice in 1801 as one of John Adams’ “Midnight
Judges,” played a key role in establishing the Supreme Court as a powerful institution.
An ardent Federalist, his rulings generally favored a strong federal government and
promoted business enterprise, while showing little sympathy for the Jeffersonian
states’ rights philosophy.
For more information, check out these videos by HipHughes (Short) and Tom
Richey (Longer).
Marbury v. Madison (1803) - Judicial Review (Marshall asserts the right of the federal
judiciary to interpret the Constitution and strike down federal laws that conflict with it.
Marshall played a long game here, siding with Madison on the specific issue at
hand while asserting the Court’s right to strike down unconstitutional legislation.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) - The State of Maryland cannot tax the 2nd BUS,
because it’s a constitutionally created arm of the federal government.
A State vs. the National Bank (Marshall picks the Bank)
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) - New York could not stop a New York to New Jersey
steamship line from operating in New York (Commerce Clause)
A State vs. Business (Marshall picks the Business)
The Marshall Court’s rulings continually frustrated the Jeffersonian Republicans, who at one point
impeached one of Marshall’s associate justices. While the impeachment did not result in removal from
office, it sent a message to Federalist judges to moderate their partisanship.
Marshall and the Indians
After deciding in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) that Indian
nations were not foreign nations, but partially sovereign entities
dependent on the federal government like a “ward to its guardian,” the
Court handed down Worcester v. Georgia (1832). In Worcester, the
Marshall Court ruled that only the federal government could deal with
Indian nations and that states had no authority to pass laws regarding
the Indian nations. As in McCulloch and Gibbons, the Marshall Court
ruled in favor of federal authority and against states’ rights, consistent
with Marshall’s overall Federalist philosophy.
The Marshall Court’s decisions
regarding the Cherokee did
nothing to stop federally-directed
Indian removal.
Photo by Wolfgang Sauber
After John Marshall’s death in 1835, Andrew Jackson appointed a longtime loyalist, Roger B. Taney, as
Chief Justice. The Court’s rulings took on a more Jacksonian tone in the late antebellum period.
Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) - The Charles River Bridge
Company sued Massachusetts when the state allowed a company to build the Warren
Bridge in close proximity to the Charles River Bridge, which had been built in 1785 with a
monopoly charter but had been poorly maintained. The Court sided with Warren Bridge,
citing that the public interest and free enterprise outweighed the value of a monopolistic
This decision was a turning point in the Court, as the Marshall Court placed great emphasis
on contracts. Also, the Taney Court upheld the decision of the state legislature, while the
most famous Marshall Court decisions were against states.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) - [INFAMOUS] The Court ruled that neither African
slaves nor their descendants can be US citizens and that Dred Scott had no right to sue his
master for his freedom (he’d been brought into a free state and free territories) / Federal
Government cannot legislate about slavery in the territories
Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech was delivered in response to Dred Scott.
SUPERSEDED BY 14TH AMENDMENT (Birthright Citizenship)
Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) - The Court’s first rulings on the Fourteenth
Amendment interpreted the amendment as applying only to limited matters of federal
citizenship (such as the right to travel between states) and that it does not apply to rights of
citizens of states such as those listed in the Bill of Rights. This 5-4 decision was the basis
for the interpretation of the 14th Amendment until the 1920s, when the Court began to
selectively incorporate the Bill of Rights into the 14th Amendment.
Plessy v Ferguson (1896) - [INFAMOUS] Public facilities (specifically railroad cars)
may be segregated on a “separate but equal” basis and still satisfy the 14th
Amendment’s requirements for equal protection of laws. Jim Crow would continue for
several decades.
Superseded by Brown v. Board (1954)
In re Debs (1895) - SCOTUS upheld a federal order for Pullman strikers, led by Eugene V.
Debs, to get back to work (interstate commerce, postal service, etc.). In late 19th century,
SCOTUS was not friendly toward labor unions (neither was the rest of the federal
Insular Cases (1901) - The Court ruled that inhabitants of overseas U.S. territories (e.g.,
those gained by the U.S. after the Spanish-American War) do not automatically have the
same constitutional rights as Americans living in the continental United States. Simply put,
“The Constitution does not follow the flag.”
(Presently, SCOTUS is being asked to overturn this ruling.)
Schechter Poultry Corp v. United States (1935) - SCOTUS strikes down
provisions of the New Deal (specifically the National Recovery Administration [NRA]) as
unconstitutional - Led to FDR’s “court packing” scheme, which was ultimately unsuccessful
(although FDR eventually got more people appointed to the Court).
Korematsu v. United States (1944) - [INFAMOUS] SCOTUS decides 6-3 in
favor of Japanese internment - ruled that it did not violate the civil rights of US citizens of
Japanese descent. (Opinion was written by Justice Hugo Black, a former member of the
The US government has since paid reparations to the victims and their survivors.
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) - Overturned Plessy v. Ferguson - public
schools must be integrated “with all deliberate speed” (integration of public schools proceeded
gradually over several years, often with a great deal of resistance).
Brown v. Board only applied to public schools and Jim Crow was dismantled by the
Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s and subsequent Supreme Court decisions
Here are some SCOTUS cases that will also be helpful:
Griswold v. Connecticut (Birth Control)
Gideon v. Wainwright (Right to an Attorney)
Miranda v. Arizona (Rights of the Accused)
Engel v. Vitale (School Prayer)
Roe v. Wade
Tinker v. Des Moines
official restrictions on freedom of speech grew during World War I, as increased anxiety about radicalism led to a Red
Scare and attacks on labor activism and immigrant culture.
i.e. Schenck v. U.S.
The three branches of the federal government used measures including desegregation of the armed services, Brown
v. Board of Education, and the Civil RightsAct of 1964 to promote greater racial equality.
The 1970s saw growing clashes between conservatives and liberals over social and cultural issues, the powerof the
federal government, race, and movements for greater individual rights.
i.e. Roe v. Wade, Regents of UC v. Bakke.