Top 10 List: The Biggest SCOTUS Cases of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the 00s. What about the 10s?

March 12th, 2010

What were the biggest cases over the last few decades? Of course, “biggest” is difficult to define, but I think it would include strong combinations of newsworthiness, jurisprudential importance, and practical importance. Anyway, here is a list Adam U. and I came up with. The cases within each decade are in no particular order. Add any suggestions to the comments.

Top 10 list for the 1950s:

  1. Brown v. Board of Education/Bolling v. Sharpe
  2. Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer
  3. Cooper v. Aaron
  4. Trop v. Dulles
  5. Williamson v. Lee Optical
  6. Johnson v. Eisentrager
  7. Conley v. Gibson
  8. Berman v. Parker
  9. NAACP v. Alabama
  10. Griffin v. Illinois

Honorable Mention:  Jencks v. United States, Sweatt v. Painter, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents

Top 10  List for the 1960s:

  1. Mapp v. Ohio
  2. Miranda v. Arizona
  3. Baker v. Carr
  4. Reynolds v. Simms
  5. Gideon v. Wainright
  6. Griswold v. Connecticut
  7. Katzenburg v. McClurg / Heart of Atlanta
  8. Loving v. Virginia
  9. Katz v. United States
  10. Terry v. Ohio

Honorable Mention Brady v. Maryland, New York Times v. Sullivan, Vitale v. Engel

Top 10 List for the 1970s:

  1. Roe v. Wade
  2. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
  3. Roth v. Board of Regents
  4. Fronteiro v. Richardson
  5. Matthews v. Eldridge
  6. Penn Central
  7. Furman v. Georgia
  8. Gregg v. Georgia
  9. Lemon v. Kurtzman
  10. Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Agents

Honorable Mention: New York Times v. United States,  Goldberg v. Kelly, Washington v. Davis, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, United States v. Nixon, Buckley v. Valeo,  Milliken v. Bradley

Top 10 List for the 1980s:

  1. Morrison v. Olson
  2. Webster v. Reproductive Health Services
  3. Dames & Moore v. Regan
  4. INS v. Chadha
  5. Richmond v. J.A. Crosson
  6. Chevron v. NRDC
  7. Batson v. Kentucky
  8. Bowsher v. Synar
  9. Bowers v. Hardwick
  10. Strickland v. Washington

Honorable Mention: Central Hudson v. Public Service Commission, Cleburne v. Cleburne living center, South Dakota v. Dole, Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority

The 1980s were a sleepy time.

Top 10 list for the 1990s:

  1. Planned Parenthood v. Casey
  2. Lopez & Morrison
  3. Aderand v. Pena
  4. Romer v. Evans
  5. Washington v. Glucksberg
  6. Employment Division v. Smith
  7. Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals
  8. Printz v. United States
  9. Clinton v. New York
  10. Reno v. ACLU

Honorable Mention: Clinton v. Jones, Boerne v. Flores

The cases of the 1990s mostly dealt with federalism and structural provisions of the Constitution, and had limited impact on individual rights cases.

Top 10 List for the 2000s:

  1. Bush v. Gore
  2. D.C. v. Heller
  3. Citizens United v. F.E.C.
  4. Boumediene v. Bush
  5. United States v. Booker
  6. Lawrence v. Texas
  7. Grutter v. Bollinger
  8. Carhart cases
  9. Kelo v. City of New London
  10. Gonzales v. Raich

Honorable Mention:, Roper v. Simmons, Kennedy v. Louisana, Zelman v. Harris

At the start of the 2000s, most these issues were unpredictable. The detainee cases, Bush v. Gore, and Booker came out of left field. And with Raich, the Court significantly retreated from the federalism revolution of the 1990s.


And what issues will the Supreme Court take up in the next decade? Abortion? Same-sex marriage? Limited government cases, like the constitutionality of health care? Establishment clause cases, like the Pledge of Allegiance case the 9th Circuit handed down yesterday?