DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD (1857)
Dred Scott was a slave taken by his master to free territory in the North. When his master died, Scott sued for his freedom. The court decided that Scott was not a citizen and that in effect slaves could be taken to any state in the Union while remaining slaves. This decision was seen as upsetting 50 years of careful compromise and became a cause of the Civil War.
PLESSY V. FERGUSON (1896)
The State of Louisiana required that railroads maintain separate but equal sleeping cars for white and black passengers. Plessy was one-eighth black but was refused a seat he had paid for in a whites only car. He sued, citing the post-Civil War Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments supporting equality for blacks. The Supreme Court turned him down, saying that separate but equal accommodations did not violate the law. This ruling held for almost 60 years until Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate cannot be equal.
WEST COAST HOTEL CO. V. PARRISH (1937)
This decision, rendered during the heart of the Great Depression, allowed the federal government to set minimum wages for work in private industry, something the court had previously prohibited. Parrish was a poor chambermaid whose hotel refused to pay her the minimum wage.
BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954)
"Separate but equal" was the rule of the land before this decision came along. The Brown ruling set off the Civil Rights movement by declaring that segregated schools for different races were inherently unequal and had to go. Brown, an African American railroad worker, had a third-grade daughter who had been forced to travel miles to a segregated black school when a white-only public school was right in her neighborhood.
MAPP V. OHIO (1962)
Police burst into Mapp's house without a search warrant and found some illegal material. Mapp protested that the evidence could not be used against her because it was obtained from an unauthorized raid that violated her Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. The Supreme Court agreed, and police agencies can no longer use evidence obtained illegally as proof in trials.