Top U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Fast FactsBy CNN LibraryUpdated 3:24 PM ET, Tue September 23, 2014Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013): The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal over California's Proposition 8 on jurisdictional grounds. The voter-approved ballot measure barring same-sex marriage was not defended by state officials, but rather a private party. This ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California to resume, but left open-ended the legal language of 35 other states barring same-sex marriage. Take a look at other important cases decided by the high court.Hide Caption 1 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – United States v. Windsor (2013): When her wife died in 2009, Edith Windsor, 84, was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes because her marriage was not recognized by the federal government's Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. The Supreme Court struck down the part of the law which denied legally marriage same-sex couples the same federal benefits provided to heterosexual spouses.Hide Caption 2 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012): The Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration's health care reform law, on June 28, 2012. The decision determined how hundreds of millions of Americans will receive health care.Hide Caption 3 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010): Activists rally in February 2012 to urge the Supreme Court to overturn its decision that fundamentally changed campaign finance law by allowing corporations and unions to contribute unlimited funds to political action committees not affiliated with a candidate.Hide Caption 4 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Texas v. Johnson (1989): The Supreme Court overturned the decision that convicted Gregory Lee Johnson of desecrating a venerated object after he set an American flag on fire during a protest. The court ruled that Johnson (at right with his lawyer, William Kunstler) was protected under the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Hide Caption 5 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – United States v. Nixon (1974): When President Richard Nixon claimed executive privilege over taped conversations regarding the Watergate scandal, the Supreme Court ruled that he had to turn over the tapes and other documents. The ruling set a precedent limiting the power of the president of the United States. Hide Caption 6 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Roe v. Wade (1973): Norma McCorvey, identified as "Jane Roe," sued Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade over a law that made it a felony to have an abortion unless the life of the mother was in danger. The court agreed with Roe and overruled any laws that made abortion illegal in the first trimester. Here, McCorvey, left, stands with her attorney Gloria Allred in 1989.Hide Caption 7 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Miranda v. Arizona (1966): Ernesto Miranda confessed to a crime without the police informing him of his right to an attorney or right against self-incrimination. His attorney argued in court that the confession should have been inadmissible, and in 1966, the Supreme Court agreed. The term "Miranda rights" has been used since. Hide Caption 8 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Gideon v. Wainwright (1963): The Supreme Court overturned the burglary conviction of Clarence Earl Gideon after he wrote to the court from his prison cell, explaining he was denied the right to an attorney at his 1961 trial. Hide Caption 9 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Mapp v. Ohio (1961): The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Dollree Mapp because the evidence collected against her was obtained during an illegal search. The ruling re-evaluated the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.Hide Caption 10 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Nathaniel Steward recites his lesson surrounded by white classmates at the Saint-Dominique School in Washington. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to separate students based on race. Hide Caption 11 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Korematsu v. United States (1944): Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American man, was arrested after authorities found out that he claimed to be a Mexican-American to avoid an internment camp during World War II. The court ruled that the rights of an individual were not as important as the need to protect the country during wartime. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.Hide Caption 12 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): Homer Plessy was arrested when he refused to leave a whites-only segregated train car, claiming he was 7/8 white and only 1/8 black. The Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" facilities for blacks were constitutional, which remained the rule until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.Hide Caption 13 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857): When Dred Scott asked a circuit court to reward him his freedom after moving to a free state, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress didn't have the right to prohibit slavery and, further, that those of African-American descent were not protected by the Constitution. Hide Caption 14 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Gibbons v. Ogden (1824): This was the first case to establish Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The ruling signaled a shift in power from the states to the federal government. Aaron Ogden, seen here, was given exclusive permission from the state of New York to navigate the waters between New York and certain New Jersey ports. When Ogden brought a lawsuit against Thomas Gibbons for operating steamships in his waters, the Supreme Court sided with Gibbons.Hide Caption 15 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): In response to the federal government's controversial decision to institute a national bank in the state, Maryland tried to tax the bank out of business. When a federal bank cashier, James W. McCulloch, refused to pay the taxes, the state of Maryland filed charges against him. In McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that chartering a bank was an implied power of the Constitution. The first national bank, pictured, was created by Congress in 1791 in Philadelphia. Hide Caption 16 of 17Photos: Supreme Court cases that changed America 17 photosSupreme Court cases that changed America – Marbury v. Madison (1803): When Secretary of State James Madison, seen here, tried to stop Federal loyalists from being appointed to judicial positions, he was sued by William Marbury. Marbury was one of former President John Adams' appointees, and the court decided that although he had a right to the position, the court couldn't enforce his appointment. The case defined the boundaries of the executive and judicial branches of government.Hide Caption 17 of 17Here's a look at some of the most important cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court since 1789.1803 - Marbury v. MadisonThis decision established the system of checks and balances and the power of the Supreme Court within the federal government. Situation: Federalist William Marbury and many others were appointed to positions by outgoing President John Adams. The appointments were not finalized before the new Secretary of State James Madison took office, and Madison chose not to honor them. Marbury and the others invoked an Act of Congress and sued to get their appointed positions. The Court decided against Marbury 6-0.Historical significance: Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, "An act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." It was the first time the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law that had been passed by Congress.1857 - Dred Scott v. SandfordThis decision established that slaves were not citizens of the United States and were not protected under the U.S. Constitution. Situation: Dred Scott and his wife Harriet sued for their freedom in Missouri, a slave state, after having lived with their owner, an Army surgeon, in the free Territory of Wisconsin.The Court decided against Scott 7-2.Historical significance: Slaves are not citizens and thereby cannot sue in federal court. The decision overturned the Missouri Compromise, where Congress had prohibited slavery in the territories. The Dred Scott decision was overturned later with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in 1865 and the 14th Amendment in 1868, granting citizenship to all born in the U.S.1896 - Plessy v. FergusonThis decision established the rule of segregation, separate but equal.Situation: While attempting to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Law in Louisiana, Homer Plessy, a man of 1/8 African descent, sat in the train car for whites instead of the blacks-only train car and was arrested. The Court decided against Plessy 7-1.Historical significance: Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote, "The argument also assumes that social prejudice may be overcome by legislation and that equal rights cannot be secured except by an enforced commingling of the two races... if the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane." The Court gave merit to the "Jim Crow" system. Plessy was overturned by the Brown v. Board of Education decision. 1954 - Brown v. Board of Education This decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and granted equal protection under the law.Situation: Segregation of the public school systems in the United States was addressed when cases in Kansas, South Carolina, Delaware, and Virginia were all decided together under Brown v. Broad of Education. Third-grader Linda Brown was denied admission to the white school a few blocks from her home and was forced to attend the blacks-only school a mile away. The Court decided in favor of Brown unanimously.Historical significance: Racial segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.1963 - Gideon v. Wainwright This decision guarantees the right to counsel.Situation: Clarence Earl Gideon was forced to defend himself when he requested a lawyer from a Florida court and was refused. He was convicted and sentenced to five years for breaking and entering. The Court decided in favor of Gideon unanimously.Historical significance: Ensures the Sixth Amendment's guarantee to counsel is applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment's due process clause.1964 - New York Times v. SullivanThis decision upheld the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.Situation: The New York Times and four African-American ministers were sued for libel by Montgomery, Alabama, police commissioner L.B. Sullivan. Sullivan claimed a full-page ad in the Times discussing the arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his efforts toward voter registration and integration in Montgomery were defamatory against Sullivan. Alabama's libel law does not require Sullivan to prove harm since the ad did contain factual errors. He was awarded $500,000. The Court decided against Sullivan unanimously.Historical significance: The First Amendment protects free speech and publication of all statements about public officials made without actual malice.1966 - Miranda v. ArizonaThe decision established the rights of suspects against self-incrimination. Situation: Ernesto Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping after he confessed, while in police custody, without benefit of counsel or knowledge of his constitutional right to remain silent. The court decided in favor of Miranda 5-4.Historical significance: Upon arrest and/or questioning, all suspects are given some form of their constitutional rights - "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?"1973 - Roe v. Wade This decision the right to privacy extends to include a woman's right to choose pregnancy or abortion.Situation: "Jane Roe" (Norma McCorvey), single and living in Texas, did not want to continue her third pregnancy. Under Texas law, she could not legally obtain an abortion. The Court decided in favor of Roe 7-2. Historical significance: Abortion is legal in all 50 states. Women have the right to choose between pregnancy and abortion. 1974 - United States v. NixonThis decision established that executive privilege is neither absolute nor unqualified.Situation: President Richard Nixon's taped conversations from 1971 onward were the object of subpoenas by both the special prosecutor and those under indictment in the Watergate scandal. The president claimed immunity from subpoena under executive privilege.The Court decided against Nixon 8-0.Historical significance: The president is not above the law. After the Court ruled on July 24, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned on August 8. 1978 - Regents of the U. of California v. BakkeThis decision ruled that race cannot be the only factor in college admissions.Situation: Allan Bakke had twice applied for and was denied admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis. Bakke was white, male, and 35 years old. He claimed under California's affirmative action plan, minorities with lower grades and test scores were admitted to the medical school when he was not, therefore his denial of admission is based solely on race. The Court decided in Bakke's favor, 5-4.Historical significance: Affirmative action is approved by the Court, schools may use race as an admissions factor. However the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment works both ways in the case of affirmative action; race can not be the only factor in the admissions process.2012 - Dept. of HHS v. Florida (11-398); Florida v. Dept. of HHS (11-400); Natl. Federation of Business v. Sebelius (11-393) - Healthcare ReformSituation: The constitutionality of the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama. The Court voted 5-4 in favor of upholding the Affordable Care Act. Historical significance: The ruling upholds the law's central provision - a requirement that all people have health insurance2013 - United States v. WindsorThis decision ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined the term "marriage" under federal law as a "legal union between one man and one woman" deprived same-sex couples who are legally married under state laws of their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under federal law.Situation: Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Their marriage was recognized by New York state, where they resided. Upon Spyer's death in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in federal taxes, because their marriage was not recognized by federal law. The court voted 5-4 in favor of Windsor.Historical significance: The court rules that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Honorable mentions:1944 - Korematsu v. United States - The Court ruled Executive Order 9066, internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, is legal, 6-3 for the United States.1961 - Mapp v. Ohio - "Fruit of the poisonous tree," evidence obtained through an illegal search cannot be used at trial, 6-3 for Mapp.1967 - Loving v. Virginia - Prohibition against interracial marriage was ruled unconstitutional, 9-0 for Loving.2008 - District of Columbia v. Heller - The Second Amendment does protect the individual's right to bear arms, 5-4 for Heller.2010 - Citizens United v. FEC - The Court rules corporations can contribute to PACs under the First Amendment's right to free speech, 5-4 for Citizens United.More from usBoston bombing survivor: 'I knew my legs were gone'Survivor to Tsarnaev: 'I wasn't afraid anymore'