Top Ten Landmark Supreme Court Cases

In order of importance and frequency of appearance on AP exams.

* indicates the 19 cases that are part of the 2018 AP Government course redesign.

  1. Marbury v Madison, 1803*

  2. McCulloch v Maryland, 1819*

  3. Brown v Board of Education I, 1954*

  4. Brown v Board of Education II, 1955*

  5. Plessy v Ferguson, 1896*

  6. Gitlow v New York, 1925*

  7. Mapp v Ohio, 1961

  8. Gideon v Wainwright, 1963*

  9. Miranda v Arizona, 1966

  10. Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969*

  11. Roe v Wade, 1973*

  12. United States v Lopez, 1995*

  13. Heart of Atlanta Motel v US, 1964

  14. Baker v Carr, 1961*

  15. Engel v Vitale, 1962*

  16. Regents of the University of California v Bakke, 1978

  17. Texas v Johnson, 1989

  18. Buckley v Valeo, 1976*

  19. New York Times v Sullivan, 1964

  20. New York Times Company v U.S., 1971*

  21. Dred Scott v Samford, 1857

  22. Miller v California, 1973

  23. Wisconsin v Yoder, 1972*

  24. Gibbons v Ogden, 1824

  25. Lemon v Kurtzman, 1973

  26. Schenck v United States, 1919*

  27. US v Nixon, 1974

  28. Reynolds v Sims, 1964

  29. Korematsu v. United States, 1944

  30. Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board, 1971

  31. McDonald v Chicago, 2010*

  32. Terry v Ohio, 1968

  33. Bush v Gore, 2000

  34. Shaw v Reno, 1993*

  35. Loving v. Virginia, 1967

  36. Griswold v Connecticut, 1965

  37. Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (FEC), 2010*

  38. Shelley v Kraemer, 1948

  39. New Jersey v T.L.O., 1985

  40. Reno v ACLU, 1997

  41. Reynolds v US, 1879

  42. Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

  43. Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v Smith, 1990

  44. Santa Fe Independent School District v Doe, 1990

  45. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, 1992

  46. Furman v Georgia, 1972

  47. Gregg v Georgia, 1976

Although the AP GoPo exam does not require you to know court case dates, it is essential to be able to place each case into its political historical context.

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The following important recent cases have not yet made the AP GoPo exam (give them time), but are well worth knowing.

Gonzales v Raich, 2005 (6-3 decision)

Upheld Commerce Clause regarding Controlled Substances Act

Boy Scouts v Dale, 2000 (5-4 decision)

Boy Scouts can discriminate against gay Boy Scouts.

Lawrence v. Texas, 2003 (6-3 decision)

Struck down state laws that prohibited sodomy between consenting adults.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008 (5-4 decision)

Citizens have a right to possess firearms at home for self-defense.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 2012 (5-4 decision)

Upheld the mandate that most Americans have health insurance.

Shelby County v. Holder, 2013 (5-4 decision)

States and localities do not need federal approval to change voting laws.

United States v. Windsor, 2013 (5-4 decision)

Federal government must provide benefits to legally married same-sex couples.



Make a list of what you believe to be the top ten landmark Supreme Court Cases. Put them in chronological order.

Teams of 3 or 4

Make a timeline of the top ten events. Include a photograph or image that best summarizes each case.


Each student takes one of the cases from the list above. Work as a class to place all the cases onto a chronological timeline (you could do this on a chalkboard, whiteboard, large roll of paper, individual pieces of paper taped together). By vote, put a star next to the 10 cases that the majority thinks are the most important. Display your timeline on the wall, in the hall, online, or in some creative fashion.

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