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The United States Constitution

Resources for researching the history, drafting, interpretation, and other elements of the U.S. Constitution.

Introduction

As our nation's founding document and the primary source of all legal rights, the U.S. Constitution is naturally of great interest to lawyers and judges. The U.S. Supreme Court has the final say on what the Constitution means, and this section lists several (but by no means all!) of its most important Constitutional decisions. You'll also find a list of important books on Constitutional law (again, it's far from a comprehensive list - there are hundreds out there!) and some links to websites that talk about how to interpret the Constitution.

The links and resources on this page will give you a great start if you want to learn more about how the legal system interacts with the Constitution.

Major U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793) - the case that sparked the creation of the Eleventh Amendment

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) - the first time a law was declared unconstitutional

McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819) - interpreted the Constitution to grant certain implied powers to the federal government

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) - greatly expanded Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) - a major slavery case

Plessy v. Ferguson, 16 U.S. 537 (1896) - upheld state laws establishing "separate but equal" segregated facilities

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) - abolished segregation in public schools

Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) - prohibited law enforcement from using evidence obtained illegally under the Fourth Amendment

Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) - struck down as unconstitutional school-sponsored prayers in public schools

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) - upheld the right to legal counsel for criminal defendants

New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) - upheld the freedom of the press from libel suits by public officials

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) - established a right to privacy for married couples seeking contraceptives

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) - interpreted the Fifth Amendment and created the requirement for law enforcement to issue "Miranda warnings" advising arrested individuals of their rights

Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) - famously stated that public school students "do not leave their rights at the schoolhouse door" and upheld student free speech rights

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) - extended the right to privacy found in Griswold v. Connecticut to cover abortions

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) - prohibited public universities from implementing affirmative action policies if they result in reverse discrimination

Bethel School District #403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1982) - limited the Tinker rule and granted public schools the right to place reasonable restrictions on students' free speech rights

Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) - interpreted the Bakke holding to find affirmative action policies legal in some cases, even if they result in reverse discrimination. A related case, Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003), struck down as unconstitutional a similar policy that did not take individualized factors into account

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) - struck down restrictions on corporations' right to contribute to political campaigns

Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012) - held that states cannot pass laws that conflict with federal immigration enforcement authority

Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 2 (2013) - struck down two sections of the Voting Rights Act

Riley v. California, 573 U.S. ___ (2014) - interpreted the Fifth Amendment to prohibit law enforcement from searching a cell phone without a warrant

Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015) - struck down as unconstitutional state bans on same-sex marriage

South Dakota v. Wayfair, 585 U.S. ___ (2018) - allowed states to require online retailers to charge state sales tax on purchases made by customers who live in that state, even if the retailer doesn't have a physical presence there

Constitutional Law Books