Top Ten Landmark Supreme Court Cases

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

* indicates the 15 cases that are Required for the AP Government course redesign.

  1. Marbury v Madison, 1803*

  2. McCulloch v Maryland, 1819*

  3. Brown v Board of Education, 1954*

  4. Gideon v Wainwright, 1963*

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

  6. Roe v Wade, 1973*

  7. United States v Lopez, 1995*

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

  9. Baker v Carr, 1961*

  10. Engel v Vitale, 1962*

  11. Wisconsin v Yoder, 1972*

  12. Schenck v United States, 1919*

  13. McDonald v Chicago, 2010*

  14. Shaw v Reno, 1993*

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


  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. Plessy v Ferguson, 1896

  21. Gitlow v New York, 1925

  22. Mapp v Ohio, 1961

  23. Miranda v Arizona, 1966

  24. Dred Scott v Samford, 1857

  25. Heart of Atlanta Motel v US, 1964

  26. Miller v California, 1973

  27. Gibbons v Ogden, 1824

  28. Lemon v Kurtzman, 1973

  29. US v Nixon, 1974

  30. Reynolds v Sims, 1964

  31. Korematsu v. United States, 1944

  32. Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board, 1971

  33. Terry v Ohio, 1968

  34. Bush v Gore, 2000

  35. Loving v. Virginia, 1967

  36. Griswold v Connecticut, 1965

  37. Shelley v Kraemer, 1948

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

  39. Reno v ACLU, 1997

  40. Reynolds v US, 1879

  41. Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

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

  43. Santa Fe Independent School District v Doe, 1990

  44. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, 1992

  45. Furman v Georgia, 1972

  46. 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.

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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