GIDEON V. WAINWRIGHT (1963)
Gideon was a poor prisoner who was barely literate. He had been denied a court appointed attorney because the crime for which he had been charged was not a capital offense and, therefore, had to act as his own council during the trial. In a touching, handwritten appeal, he asked the Supreme Court for help. The justices found that states have a duty to supply a lawyer for people who can't afford one. Gideon got a new trial and was found innocent.
GRISWOLD V. CONNECTICUT (1965)
This case established the right to privacy that kept the states from regulating personal sexual behavior that hurts no one. Griswold had been fined by Connecticut for running a birth-control clinic.
MIRANDA V. ARIZONA (1966)
Miranda was a Mexican American with little education who confessed under police questioning without having been informed that he had the right to remain silent and to have an attorney. The court ruled that statements made by a defendant during interrogation without benefit of an attorney present would be inadmissible in court unless the defendant was made aware of these right and voluntarily waived them before being questioned. The reading of Miranda rights by police officers is now routine. Even people arrested in totalitarian countries now sometimes demand that police read them their Miranda rights, based on what they see on TV. They don't know that because they're not from the U.S. they don't necessarily have these rights. But rights for the accused are increasing around the democratic world.
ROE V. WADE (1973)
The Supreme Court held that abortion is a privacy issue and that, during the first trimester, it is the mother's and doctor's choice to control birth and states can't prohibit this procedure. Although many women favor the right to choose, conservative religious groups oppose abortion. The court has been a battleground ever since.