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Click on a date to learn more about Supreme Court developments during a specific time period.
1787 1794 1810 1833 1857 1866 1874 1883 1896 1910 1918 1930 1935 1941 1954 1963 1966 1973 1981 1989 1995 2000 2005
Self-Inflicted Wounds
The Court issues its infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding a Louisiana statute that requires "equal but separate [railroad] accommodations for the white and colored races." Writing for an 8-1 majority, Justice Henry Brown states that the segregation law does not "discriminate" among legal rights by race, but merely recognizes a "distinction" between races "which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color." Justice John Marshall Harlan's famous dissent in the case will become law after the Court's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

The Court strikes a state law barring Louisiana citizens and corporations from purchasing property insurance from out-of-state companies not licensed within the state. Written by Justice Rufus Peckham, the unanimous decision in Allgeyer v. Louisiana interprets the Fourteenth Amendment to protect a broad "liberty of contract" that severely limits the states' power to enact social or economic legislation.

The Court upholds as constitutional a Mississippi law requiring citizens to pass a literacy test before being allowed to vote. The decision in Williams v. Mississippi states that such tests do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment as long as they are applied equally to all applicants.

Photo of courtroom spectators awaiting the entrance of the justices, 1904.
Courtroom spectators await the entrance of the justices in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol, 1904. The Court met in this room from 1860 to 1935, when it moved into its own building.

Reproduction courtesy of the Library of Congress
The Court issues its landmark decision in Lochner v. New York, using the Fourteenth Amendment to strike a state law that had set a maximum 60-hour work week for bakers. The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Rufus Peckham, holds that the law interferes with "the freedom of master and employee to contract with each other" on purportedly equal terms. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' dissent will become law in the future.

Future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis appears before the Court as an attorney, arguing for the state in Muller v. Oregon, a case that deals with a statute limiting the hours of women employed in laundries. Brandeis submits an unorthodox brief containing just two pages of legal arguments, followed by 113 pages of medical and sociological data documenting the degenerative effect of long hours on the health of women workers. In a departure from the Lochner decision of 1905, the Court unanimously upholds the Oregon law. Justice David J. Brewer's majority opinion finds a legitimate state interest in the law, stating that "as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race."