Friday, 6 February 2004

The cases everyone should know

Tim Sandefur is collecting nominations for “the canon” —as he puts it, “the ten Supreme Court decisions every American (not lawyers or law students!) should read.” So far, Scipio’s list seems the most complete:

  1. Marbury v. Madison
  2. Dred Scott
  3. Plessy v. Ferguson
  4. The Slaughter House Cases
  5. Brown v. Board of Education
  6. Erie
  7. Wickard v. Filburn
  8. Texas v. Johnson
  9. Printz v. US
  10. (tie) Mapp v. Ohio and NY Times v. Sullivan

He also lists, as honorable mentions: Korematsu, Roe v. Wade, Flood v. Kuhn, Lopez, Bowers v. Hardwick, and Harper’s Lessee.

Turning first to the Top Ten: my recollection is that I’ve never mentioned Erie, Wickard, and Printz, and I’ve only mentioned Slaughter-House in passing (trying to explain why the privileges or immunities clause is in the 14th Amendment) in intro. From the honorable mentions, Flood and Harper’s Lessee didn’t make it either; nor, I think, does Korematsu (no doubt to the chagrin of Eric Muller) or Lopez, but it’s been two years since I last taught the class (Fall 2001—I taught methods in Spring of 2002) so it may have been mentioned. All of the cases that don’t make it in (except Korematsu and Lopez) are ones I’d have to stop and think about before remembering what they’re about.

Notable omissions from Scipio’s list that do make it into the lecture: Griswold, McCullough v. Maryland, Casey, some of the gerrymandering cases (Baker v. Carr, Shaw v. Reno, Thornburg v. Gingles spring to mind), Washington v. Davis, Bakke, Miller v. Johnson, and Bowers v. Hardwick. Chandra v. INS (the line-item veto case) may or may not get a mention when we talk about the executive branch, as might U.S. v. Nixon. Romer v. Colorado might be in there too. If I were lecturing today, I’d have to add Texas v. Johnson, of course.

This might (or might not) tell you something about the biases of the writers of political science textbooks. Intro, mind you, isn’t a con law class; I have 375 minutes in the semester to talk about civil rights and liberties, and a lot of that time is devoted to things outside the courts. Nor is con law really in my general field of expertise, although I could probably teach it to undergraduates in a pinch if absolutely needed.