Q: What's the most important Supreme Court case no one's ever heard of?
Alan M. Dershowitz, professor, Harvard Law School
The 1919 Schenck v. United States decision contains the most famous sentence ever penned by a Supreme Court justice—and one of the most dangerous. Affirming the conviction of socialists who urged draftees to resist fighting in World War I, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” This was a flawed analogy—shouting “Fire!” in a theater incites action, whereas circulating ideas and arguments incites thought that might then lead to action—but one that has since been used as a justification for all manner of censorship.
Alex Kozinski, chief judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
The Court’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause in Wickard v. Filburn—a 1942 case about a farmer who grew more wheat than the law allowed—led to a vast expansion of federal power, and was heavily relied on by those arguing last year that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.
Linda Greenhouse, former New York Times Supreme Court correspondent
First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978) was the first case to officially grant corporations the First Amendment right to spend money in politics. Thirty-two years later, the majority ruling in Citizens United cited this case as precedent for the right of corporations to spend unlimited amounts on behalf of candidates, not just issues.