11 Most Important Civil Rights Trials

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Courts hear thousands of cases each day, but some civil rights trials fundamentally changed the course of American history. In their wake, millions of people were able to experience a greater degree of freedom and could take steps to more fulfilling lives. Here are some of the civil rights trials that have had the greatest impact on American history.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

The Supreme Court ruled that covenants, or restrictive property agreements, that limited ownership to Caucasians and excluded other races were unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) and II (1955)

Argued by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the outcome of this case established that school segregation was unconstitutional and violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. In the second case, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated school systems must be abolished in due speed.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that states are required to provide a lawyer to defendants in criminal cases who can’t afford one.

Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964)

Prior to this case, hotels were able to discriminate against tenants based on race, an ability the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional and reaffirmed the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

In a case that radically altered American policing, the Court ruled that statements a person makes in custody can’t be used against them unless they are informed of their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and willingly waive them.

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

The Supreme Court ruled that bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Sixteen states at that point had still officially outlawed it and had to change their laws due to the decision.

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)

School busing as a means of integrating them and overcoming segregation was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in this 1971 case.

Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton (1973)

In this pair of landmark cases argued back-to-back on the same day, the Court held that fetuses are potential life and do not hold constitutional rights and that mothers can seek an abortion through all three trimesters so long as their health is in danger.

Batson v. Kentucky (1986)

A jury in Kentucky was formed to try a Black man, but it purposefully excluded members of his race. The Supreme Court found that it was a violation of a defendants’ rights.

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

After the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, during which the court found that affirmative action was unconstitutional if used in a quota system, the Court pivoted and affirmed its constitutionality in higher education so long as it did not treat race in a “mechanical” way.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that all states must grant and recognize same-sex marriages according to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Bottom Line

People’s rights and privileges are violated every day, but that doesn’t mean injustices should be allowed to pass. If your civil rights have been violated, speaking with an experienced civil rights lawyer could help you get on the path to obtaining compensation for the damages you’ve suffered. Civil rights are fundamental to all others, and if yours have been violated, your ability to lead a full life has been impacted. Challenging these violations is critical to rectifying the damages done to you and to ensure that it never happens again, to you or to anyone else.



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