US Supreme Court Opinions by Chief Justice and Year

Browse Justia’s free collection of full text U.S. Supreme Court opinions by year, from 1759–Present, organized by Chief Justice.

The Roberts Court (2005 – Present)
Appointed by President George W. Bush, Chief Justice John G. Roberts first presided over the Court on October 3, 2005, the first day of the 2005–2006 Term. President Bush had originally nominated him as an associate justice to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, but after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist during Roberts’s nomination hearings, President Bush withdrew the nomination and re-nominated him to the position of Chief Justice.

Notable cases from the Roberts court include: Gonzales v. Carhart (abortion), Ashcroft v. Iqbal (civil procedure), Citizens United v. FEC (campaign finance), District of Columbia v. Heller (gun control), and United States v. Windsor (same-sex marriage).

The Rehnquist Court (1986 – 2005)
William Rehnquist was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon, beginning his tenure at the Supreme Court in 1972. Upon the retirement of Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Justice Rehnquist to replace Burger as Chief Justice. Chief Justice Rehnquist served in that capacity until his death in 2005. Ideologically, Chief Justice Rehnquist was known for a view of federalism that emphasized states’ rights. His was the first Court since the 1930s to strike down an act of Congress as exceeding its power under the Commerce Clause.

Some of the most known cases from the Rehnquist Court include: Texas v. Johnson (free speech), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (abortion), United States v. Lopez (federalism), Bush v. Gore (election law), Lawrence v. Texas (LGBT rights), Grutter v. Bollinger (affirmative action), and McConnell v. FEC (campaign finance).

The Burger Court (1969 – 1986)
Warren Burger succeeded Earl Warren as Chief Justice when the latter retired in 1969. Appointed by President Richard Nixon, Warren Burger, though himself regarded as conservative, inherited a relatively liberal Court. Often described as a “transitional” court, the Burger Court bridged the more liberal Warren Court with the more conservative Rehnquist Court that followed.

Notable cases from the Burger Court include: New York Times v. United States (freedom of the press), Roe v. Wade (abortion), United States v. Nixon (executive privilege), Gregg v. Georgia (death penalty), and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (affirmative action).

The Warren Court (1953 – 1969)
Formerly the governor of California, Earl Warren was appointed to Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 after the sudden death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson. The Warren Court was notably liberal in its ideology, issuing some landmark decisions affecting civil rights, separation of church and state, and police arrest procedures.

Some of the landmark decisions by the Warren Court include: Brown v. Board of Education (racial segregation), Gideon v. Wainwright (right to counsel), Baker v. Carr (election law), Reynolds v. Sims (election law), Miranda v. Arizona (criminal procedure).

The Vinson Court (1946 – 1953)
President Harry S. Truman appointed Fred Vinson to the position of Chief Justice in 1946, as the successor of Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, who died in office. Chief Justice Vinson is the last Chief Justice to have been nominated by a Democratic president.

Among the notable decisions made by the Vinson Court are: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (separation of powers), United States v. Reynolds (state secrets privilege), and Sweatt v. Painter (racial segregation).

The Stone Court (1941 – 1946)
Nominated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harlan F. Stone succeeded Chief Justice Hughes as Chief Justice in 1941 after the latter retired from office. Chief Justice Stone was the first of his position not to have previously served in an elected office and is the only justice to have occupied every position of seniority on the Supreme Court.

Among the significant decisions rendered by the Stone Court are: Korematsu v. United States (Japanese internment camps), International Shoe Co. v. Washington (personal jurisdiction), and Pinkerton v. United States (criminal law).

The Hughes Courts (1930 – 1941)
Charles Hughes was nominated to be the 11th Chief Justice by President Herbert Hoover in 1930. Chief Justice Hughes had been the Republican nominee for the 1916 U.S. presidential election, losing by a small margin to Woodrow Wilson, and he had also served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1910 to 1916. The Hughes Court was known for upholding legislation protecting civil rights and civil liberties, and for resisting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Court in 1937 via the Judiciary Reorganization Bill. After the unsuccessful attempt to pack the Court, Justice Owen Roberts, who had previously sided with the conservative justices, began to vote with the liberal justices. This switch marked an end to the so-called Lochner era (named for the 1905 case Lochner v. New York), a period during which the Court tended to strike down efforts by Congress to regulate business and trade.

Notable case from this period of the Supreme Court include: Near v. Minnesota (freedom of speech), A.L.A. Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States (separation of powers), Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (civil procedure), and West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (minimum wage).

The Taft Court (1921 – 1930)
Appointed by President Warren G. Harding, Chief Justice William H. Taft is the only person to have served as both the President of the United States (1909 – 1913) and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921 – 1930).

The Taft Court is known for such important decisions as: Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co. (state sovereignty) and Gitlow v. New York (free speech and freedom of the press).

The White Court (1910 – 1921)
Edward Douglas White was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910 by President William Taft after the death of Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller. Chief Justice White is best known for establishing the Rule of Reason standard used in antitrust law.

Among the notable cases decided by the White Court are: Weeks v. United States (exclusionary rule), Schenck v. United States (free speech), Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States (antitrust).

The Fuller Court (1888 – 1910)
Appointed by President Grover Cleveland, Melville Fuller served as the eighth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court until his death in 1910.

Among the most influential cases decided by the Fuller Court are: Plessy v. Ferguson (racial segregation), Lochner v. New York (labor), and Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co. (tax).

The Waite Court (1874 – 1888)
Morrison Waite was nominated as Chief Justice by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1874 after the death of Chief Justice Salmon Chase. The Waite Court was known for interpreting the Reconstruction Amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) narrowly, and strengthening states’ rights in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Some of the most important cases decided by the Waite Court include: Munn v. Illinois (agricultural regulation), the Civil Rights Cases (racial discrimination), Pennoyer v. Neff (personal jurisdiction), United States v. Cruikshank (voting rights), and Reynolds v. United States (polygamy).

The Chase Court (1864 – 1874)
Salmon P. Chase was nominated to the position of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Chief Justice Chase presided at the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, and his Court was known for supporting the rights of African Americans.

Among the notable decisions of the Chase Court are: Texas v. White (federalism), Ex parte Milligan (habeas corpus), and Slaughterhouse Cases (Privileges and Immunities Clause).

The Taney Court (1836 – 1864)
Nominated by President Andrew Jackson, Roger Taney succeeded John Marshall as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court after Marshall’s death in 1835. Taney’s Court notably upheld a strong federal government and independent judiciary, but it was during Taney’s tenure that the Court also issued its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857.

Other important decisions by the Taney Court include: Swift v. Tyson (civil procedure) and Passenger Cases (Commerce Clause).

The Marshall Court (1801 – 1835)
John Marshall was nominated as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President John Adams in 1801 to succeed Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth. The Marshall Court is known for laying the foundation of U.S. constitutional law and was instrumental in giving the Supreme Court power equivalent to that of the other two branches of government. To date, Chief Justice Marshall is the longest-serving Chief Justice in the Supreme Court’s history. Perhaps most notably, the Marshall Court is responsible for establishing the principle of judicial review, whereby the federal courts are empowered to strike down laws that violate the Constitution.

Among the most influential opinions by the Marshall Court are: Marbury v. Madison (judicial review), Fletcher v. Peck (constitutional law), McCulloch v. Maryland (constitutional law), Cohens v. Virginia (Supremacy Clause), Gibbons v. Ogden (Commerce Clause), Johnson v. M’Intosh (property law), Worcester v. Georgia (federal Indian law), and Dartmouth College v. Woodward (corporate law).

The Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth Courts (1789 – 1800)
Nominated by President George Washington, John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, serving from 1789 to 1795. He was succeeded by John Rutledge, who served as Chief Justice for only six months, appointed during a congressional recess period in June 1795 after Chief Justice Jay retired to serve as governor of New York. The Senate rejected his appointment in December 1795, and he was succeeded by Oliver Ellsworth, one of the drafters of the Constitution. Chief Justice Ellsworth served until his resignation in 1800.

Among the notable decisions of these Courts were: Hylton v. United States (judicial review), Hollingsworth v. Virginia (separation of powers), Calder v. Bull (ex post facto), New York v. Connecticut (original jurisdiction), Talbot v. Jansen (citizenship), and Chisolm v. Georgia (judicial review).

Prior Cases (1759 – 1789)
Although the U.S. Supreme Court was established in 1789 by the Judiciary Act of 1789, some decisions were rendered by courts before 1801.

The first four volumes of U.S. Reports were compiled by A. J. Dallas. The first volume (also cited as 1 Dallas) only included cases from courts in Pennsylvania, including the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Court of Oyer and Terminer at Philadelphia, the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Pennsylvania, and the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County. Volumes II through IV featured cases from the United States Supreme Court, but still included decisions from several Pennsylvania courts. In total, these opinion from Pennsylvania courts span the period from to 1754 - 1806.

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