Situation: Clarence Earl Gideon was forced to defend himself when he requested a lawyer from a Florida court and was refused. He was convicted and sentenced to five years for breaking and entering.
The Court decided in favor of Gideon unanimously.
Historical significance: Ensures the Sixth Amendment's guarantee to counsel is applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment's due process clause.
1964 - New York Times v. Sullivan This decision upheld the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Situation: The New York Times and four African-American ministers were sued for libel by Montgomery, Alabama, police commissioner L.B. Sullivan. Sullivan claimed a full-page ad in the Times discussing the arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his efforts toward voter registration and integration in Montgomery were defamatory against Sullivan. Alabama's libel law does not require Sullivan to prove harm since the ad did contain factual errors. He was awarded $500,000.
The Court decided against Sullivan unanimously.
Historical significance: The First Amendment protects free speech and publication of all statements about public officials made without actual malice.
1966 - Miranda v. Arizona The decision established the rights of suspects against self-incrimination.
Situation: Ernesto Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping after he confessed, while in police custody, without benefit of counsel or knowledge of his constitutional right to remain silent.
The court decided in favor of Miranda 5-4.
Historical significance: Upon arrest and/or questioning all suspects are given some form of their constitutional rights - "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"
1973 - Roe v. Wade This decision the right to privacy extends to include a woman's right to choose pregnancy or abortion.
Situation: "Jane Roe" (Norma McCorvey), single and living in Texas, did not want to continue her third pregnancy. Under Texas law, she could not legally obtain an abortion.
The Court decided in favor of Roe 7-2.
Historical significance: Abortion is legal in all 50 states. Women have the right to choose between pregnancy and abortion.
1974 - United States v. Nixon This decision established that executive privilege is neither absolute nor unqualified.
Situation: President Richard Nixon's taped conversations from 1971 onward were the object of subpoenas by both the special prosecutor and those under indictment in the Watergate scandal. The president claimed immunity from subpoena under executive privilege.
The Court decided against Nixon 8-0.
Historical significance: The president is not above the law. After the Court ruled on July 24, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned on August 8.
1978 - Regents of the U. of California v. Bakke This decision ruled that race cannot be the only factor in college admissions.