Landmark decision  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
In a landmark decision in 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Memoirs v. Massachusetts that the banned novel did not meet the Roth standard for obscenity.

A landmark decision is the outcome of a legal case (often thus referred to as a landmark case) that establishes a precedent that either substantially changes the interpretation of the law or that simply establishes new case law on a particular issue. Certain cases within this category are widely known in legal studies and may be reviewed by law students even if they have been overturned by later decisions.

The term "landmark decision" is not a formal legal term but a colloquialism, however it is in widespread use amongst legal professionals — over 5,000 published opinions of lower courts can be found identifying some precedent as a landmark decision in the field of law being addressed.

Comparison with cause célèbre

A landmark decision differs from a cause célèbre in that a case that draws public attention may not involve any substantial changes to the law or creation of new law, conversely a landmark decision may not impinge upon the consciousness of the general public.

The Lindbergh kidnapping was a sensational crime of the 1930s, which one may call a cause célèbre. The alleged kidnapper was captured, tried and executed several years after the crime. The correctness of that death sentence is in dispute even until today. However, the legal basis of the decision itself does not involve with too much theoretical dispute. The Congress of the United States later passed the "Lindbergh Law" that made cross-state kidnapping a federal crime (otherwise, it will be a state crime). This, arguably, could have been a "landmark decision", if the Supreme Court rather than the Congress made the change (this is nearly impossible — the only way such a change could be made by a court is if an existing law could reasonably be interpreted to mean Congress intended it to have such an effect).

Criminal law was originally reserved for the states in the U.S. The Congress, with the help from the Commerce Clause, later enacted numerous federal criminal statutes. If the Supreme Court one day finds the Commerce Clause not applicable to criminal laws, it will very likely to be called a landmark decision by legal professionals.

If, for whatever reason, Bruno Hauptmann was found not to be the person who killed Charles Lindbergh's son, his case would have been called cause célèbre in a way similar to the famous case of Alfred Dreyfus (see Dreyfus affair).




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Landmark decision" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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