In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This case consolidated five different cases where African American students had been denied admission to certain public schools based on laws permitting public education to be segregated by race. The unanimous ruling declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” which marked a significant victory for the Civil Rights Movement and paved the way for integration and the fight against systemic racism in America.

2. Roe v. Wade (1973)

The Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was a pivotal moment in the struggle for women’s reproductive rights in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. This landmark decision struck down many federal and state abortion laws and prompted ongoing national debate and various challenges that continue to shape the legal landscape around reproductive rights.

3. Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Marbury v. Madison established the principle of judicial review in the United States, affirming the Supreme Court’s authority to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. This 1803 case involved William Marbury, who had been appointed Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia but whose commission was not delivered. The ruling by Chief Justice John Marshall set the precedent for the judiciary’s role in the checks and balances system, ensuring that the judiciary could act as a check on legislative and executive power, which is fundamental to protecting individual rights.

4. Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

The Miranda v. Arizona case in 1966 was a significant moment in criminal law and civil rights. The Supreme Court ruled that detained criminal suspects, prior to police questioning, must be informed of their constitutional right to an attorney and against self-incrimination. This decision led to the creation of the “Miranda Rights,” including the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel, which law enforcement officials must inform suspects of before interrogation. The ruling aimed to protect individuals from coercive police practices and ensure fair treatment under the law.

5. Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

In 2015, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage across the United States. The ruling found that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This landmark case was a significant victory for LGBTQ+ rights, ensuring that same-sex couples have the same legal rights and recognition as opposite-sex couples, and marked a profound step toward equality and nondiscrimination.

6. The Case of Brown v. Plata (2011)

Brown v. Plata was a critical human rights case that addressed the conditions in California’s prison system. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s overcrowded prisons violated inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment. The decision mandated the state to reduce its prison population to alleviate the inhumane conditions, highlighting the importance of humane treatment within the justice system and setting a precedent for prison reform and the protection of prisoners’ rights.

7. The European Court of Human Rights Case of Lautsi v. Italy (2011)

The Lautsi v. Italy case addressed the issue of religious symbols in public schools. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the display of crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. This decision was significant in balancing the principles of freedom of religion and the secular nature of state institutions, impacting how countries within the Council of Europe handle the presence of religious symbols in public spaces.

8. The Case of R. v. Morgentaler (1988)

R. v. Morgentaler was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988, which struck down the country’s criminal abortion law as unconstitutional. Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a physician who performed abortions in defiance of the law, argued that the law infringed on women’s rights to “life, liberty and security of the person” as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ruling effectively decriminalized abortion and has had lasting implications on women’s reproductive rights in Canada.

9. The International Court of Justice Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro (2007)

In 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a landmark ruling in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, marking the first time a state was held accountable for committing genocide. The court found that Serbia had violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by failing to prevent the genocide at Srebrenica and by not cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. This case underscored the international community’s commitment to holding states accountable for grave human rights violations.

10. The Case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was a landmark Supreme Court case in 2006 that challenged the legality of the military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The court ruled that the commissions violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, asserting that detainees are entitled to basic legal protections and fair trials. This decision was crucial in upholding the rule of law and the rights of individuals detained by the U.S. government in the context of the War on Terror.

These ten landmark cases have each played a significant role in shaping the landscape of human rights law, addressing issues from racial segregation and reproductive rights to prison conditions and same-sex marriage. Each case represents a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for justice, equality, and the protection of fundamental human rights around the world.