Sept. 24, 1789
Congress sets up the federal court system with the Judiciary Act of 1789. Though Article III of the Constitution provides for the creation of the Supreme Court, the details are left to Congress.
Sept. 24, 1789
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President George Washington appoints Chief Justice John Jay and five associate justices to the Supreme Court. Two days later the appointments are confirmed by the Senate.
Feb. 1, 1790
The first session of the Supreme Court is held in the Royal Exchange building in New York City.
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President John Adams appoints Chief Justice John Marshall, who during his influential tenure (1801-1835) fleshes out the loosely-defined powers of the high court and augments the power of the federal government.
Marbury v. Madison voids an act of Congress. This landmark ruling establishes the Court's authority to declare laws unconstitutional - a power not explicitly defined within the Constitution.
Justice Samuel Chase is impeached by the House for, among other charges, denouncing democracy as a "mobocracy." It is the first and only instance a justice is impeached.
Fairfax's Devisee v. Hunter's Lessee reverses the ruling of a state supreme court, asserting the high court's power.
McCulloch v. Maryland states that the Constitution grants implied powers to Congress, enabling it to carry out explicitly defined powers. The decision vastly augments Congress' power to make laws.
Gibbons v. Ogden grants the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce over individual states.
The notorious Dred Scott v. Sanford case rules that even a freed slave is not a U.S. citizen. This decision plays a significant role in the political events leading to the Civil War and is one of the few cases overturned by a constitutional amendment.
Plessy v. Ferguson maintains that "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites do not violate the Constitution. The decision provides the legal foundation for segregation, but is reversed in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education.
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Louis D. Brandeis becomes the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson.
Near v. Minnesota, one of the first influential press cases, rules that prior governmental restraints against publication was suspect under the First Amendment's free press guarantee.
West Coast Hotel v. Parrish, the court's first significant Great Depression ruling, allows states to enact economic legislation. The case marks a turning point in the way the courts evaluate legislation concerning industry and commerce.
NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel grants the federal government the power to regulate intrastate economic activity . It lays the groundwork for sweeping federal labor laws.
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Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy and outlaws segregation in public schools. Despite this ruling, integration of students in schools was a slow and difficult process.
Gideon v. Wainwright rules that states must provide free legal counsel to any person - accused of a felony - who cannot afford a lawyer.
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Thurgood Marshall becomes the first black person appointed to the Supreme Court.
Griswold v. Connecticut lays the groundwork for Roe v. Wade by establishing a "zone of privacy" into which the government cannot intrude. The ruling draws criticism because privacy is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.
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Roe v. Wade rules that the state may not prohibit a woman from having an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy and only under certain circumstances in the second three months.
Goldberg v. Kelly establishes the rule, now commonplace, that the government cannot take away a benefit it has offered its citizens without affording them certain "procedural due process" requirements.
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U.S. v. Nixon rules that the president cannot withhold evidence needed in a criminal trial, leading directly to Nixon's resignation. The case made it clear that no one - not even the president - is above the law.
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Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
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Texas v. Johnson rules that the government cannot punish a person for burning the American flag as part of a peaceful protest.
For the first time in the 66-year history of the Supreme Court building, the threat of anthrax forces the Supreme Court to meet elsewhere. The structure remained closed since anthrax was detected at a remote mail-handling facility serving the court. The justices held court at a facility several blocks away while tests continued in their permanent quarters.
July 1, 2005
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announces her retirement, saying she won't join the court when it returns to session in October. O'Connor's announcement marks the first retirement from the high court in 11 years, and likely sets the stage for a bruising Senate confirmation struggle.
Sept. 3, 2005
Chief Justice William Rehnquist dies of thyroid cancer after 33 years of service on the Supreme Court. He was 80. He oversaw the court's conservative shift. His death opens a rare second vacancy on the nation's highest court.
Sept. 29, 2005
John G. Roberts Jr. is sworn in as the 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at a White House ceremony. Roberts was confirmed earlier in the day with a commanding majority of the Senate backing him to lead the Supreme Court.
Jan. 31, 2006
Samuel Alito is sworn in as the U.S. Supreme Court's 110th justice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. Alito was nominated by President George W. Bush in October 2005 and confirmed by the Senate, 58-42, in one of the lowest votes for a successful Supreme Court nominee in the past 100 years.