List of Landmark Court Decisions in The United States - Federalism


  • Hylton v. United States 3 U.S. 171 (1796) A tax on the possession of goods is not a "direct" tax, which must be apportioned under Article One of the United States Constitution. First instance of judicial review (compare Judicial review in the United States - Court decisions from 1788 to 1803).
  • Ware v. Hylton 3 U.S. 199 (1796) The US Supreme Court held that the Treaty of Paris (1783) superseded an otherwise valid Virginia statute and used the Supremacy Clause to nullify the law. First example of judicial nullification of a state law (compare Judicial review in the United States - Court decisions from 1788 to 1803).
  • Marbury v. Madison 5 U.S. 137 (1803) Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is unconstitutional to the extent it purports to enlarge the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond that permitted by the Constitution. Congress cannot pass laws that are contrary to the Constitution. First example of judicial nullification of a federal law (compare Judicial review in the United States - Marbury v. Madison).
  • Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816) Federal courts may review State court decisions when they rest on federal law or the federal constitution. This decision provides for the uniform interpretation of federal law throughout the various states.
  • McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819). The court stated the doctrine of implied powers, from the Necessary and Proper Clause at Article I, section 8. To fulfill its goal, the federal government may use any means the constitution does not forbid (as opposed to only what the constitution explicitly allow or only what can be proved to be necessary). State government may in no way hinder the legitimate action of the federal government (here, Maryland cannot levy a tax on the Bank of the United States). The court has varied in time on the extents of the implied powers with a markedly narrower reading approximately from the 1840s to the 1930s).
  • Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) The power to regulate interstate navigation is granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
  • Ableman v. Booth, 62 U.S. 506 (1859) State courts cannot issue rulings that contradict the decisions of federal courts.
  • Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920) Treaties made by the federal government are supreme over any state concerns about such treaties having abrogated any states' rights arising under the Tenth Amendment.
  • United States v. Wheeler, 254 U.S. 281 (1920) The Constitution grants to states, not the federal government, the power to prosecute individuals for wrongful interference with the right to travel.
  • National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 (1937) Confirmed the constitutionality of The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which created the National Labor Relations Board. Ruled that the Commerce Clause applies to labor relations, and therefore the NLRB has the right to sanction companies that fire or discriminate against workers for belonging to a union.
  • Steward Machine Company v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937) The federal government is permitted to impose a tax, even if the goal of the tax is not simply the collection of revenue (in this case, it was argued that a tax upon employers was designed to coerce states into adopting laws providing unemployment compensation).
  • United States v. Darby Lumber Co., 312 U.S. 100 (1941) Affirmed the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 under The Commerce Clause, since the act prevented states from lowering labor standards to gain commercial advantage. Affirmed that control over interstate commerce belongs entirely to congress.
  • Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942) The Commerce Clause of the constitution allows Congress to regulate anything that has a substantial economic effect on commerce, even if that effect is indirect.
  • Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958) States are bound by the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and cannot choose to ignore them.
  • United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) Ruled that the doctrine of executive privilege is legitimate, however the President cannot invoke it in criminal cases to withhold evidence.
  • South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987) It is permissible to withhold Federal highway funds to encourage states to meet a federal standard setting the minimum legal age for purchasing and possessing alcoholic beverages.
  • U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995) State law cannot set term limits on members of Congress.
  • United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995) The Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the power to prohibit mere possession of a gun near a school, because gun possession by itself is not an economic activity that affects interstate commerce even indirectly.
  • Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997) The President of the United States has no particular immunity, which could require civil law litigation against the President for a dispute unrelated to the office of President (e.g. having occurred before (s) he took office), to be stayed until the end of the President's term. Such delay would deprive plaintiffs, (and arguably the defendant), of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
  • Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998) The line-item veto is unconstitutional on a federal level, as it amounts to a presidential amendment to the law without the pre-authorization of Congress. According to the Constitution, Congress must initiate all amendments to existing laws.
  • Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997) Certain interim provisions of the Brady Act requiring state officials to execute a federal law (in doing background checks for gun ownership) are unconstitutional.
  • United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) Parts of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 were unconstitutional because they exceeded congressional power under the Commerce Clause and under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) Congress may ban the use of marijuana even where states approve its use for medicinal purposes.
  • National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutional as-written—it is unduly coercive to force the states to choose between participating in the expansion or forgoing all Medicaid funds. In addition, the individual health insurance mandate is constitutional, by virtue of the Taxing and Spending Clause (though not by the Commerce Clause).

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