Which Supreme Court Case 1803 1865 Had the Greatest Impact on American History and Why?

The Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the land, has been responsible for deciding some of the most consequential cases in American history. From landmark decisions on civil rights to matters of federal power, the Supreme Court’s rulings have shaped the course of this nation.

There are many cases that could be considered as having had a great impact on American history, but two notable ones are Marbury v. Madison (1803) and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1865). Let’s take a closer look at each case and why it had such a momentous impact.

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

This case is widely regarded as one of the most important cases in U.S. history because it established judicial review, which is the power of the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional. In this case, William Marbury had been appointed as a justice of the peace by outgoing President John Adams in his final hours in office. However, when President Thomas Jefferson assumed office, he ordered his Secretary of State James Madison not to deliver Marbury’s commission.

Marbury then sued Madison and asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus requiring Madison to deliver his commission. In its ruling, the Supreme Court held that while Marbury was entitled to his commission, it did not have jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus because that would have violated Article III of the Constitution.

The significance of this ruling lies in Chief Justice John Marshall’s reasoning for why they couldn’t issue a writ of mandamus: because it would be contrary to the Constitution itself. This established judicial review as a principle that gives courts the power to strike down laws passed by Congress or actions taken by presidents if they violate the Constitution.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1865)

Dred Scott was an enslaved man who sued for his freedom after being taken by his owner to a free state and then back to a slave state. Scott argued that he should be freed because he had lived in a free state, where slavery was illegal. However, the Supreme Court ruled against him, holding that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not sue in federal court.

Furthermore, the Court held that Congress did not have the power to ban slavery in any territory. This ruling was widely criticized at the time because it effectively overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery north of the 36°30′ parallel.

The Dred Scott decision had a profound impact on American history because it contributed to the tensions that led to the Civil War. By denying Scott his freedom and declaring that Congress did not have the power to prohibit slavery in territories, the Supreme Court effectively legitimized slavery and made compromise on this issue impossible.


In conclusion, while both Marbury v. Madison and Dred Scott v. Sandford were significant cases that shaped American history, Marbury v. Madison’s establishment of judicial review has had a greater impact on our system of government by ensuring that no branch is above the Constitution. The Dred Scott decision ultimately contributed to one of America’s darkest periods -the Civil War- which cost countless lives and reshaped our nation forever.