20 Of The Most Impactful Historic Supreme Court Judgments in History

The Second Bank of the United States, situated at 420 Chestnut Street between S. 4th and S. 5th Streets in the Center City area of Philadelphia, constructed between 1818 and 1824. Wikimedia Commons.

18. McCulloch v. Maryland ultimately determined the supremacy of the federal government over individual states

An issue of great controversy during the presidency of George Washington, in 1791 Congress created, at the request of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, the First Bank of the United States. Designed to regulate the American currency and address national economic problems, the bank was strongly opposed by advocates of states’ rights, fearing it would usurp the power of the states and concentrate it within the federal government. Expiring in 1811, the Second Bank was created in 1816 in an attempt to remedy the economic turmoil following the War of 1812. Seeking to inhibit the bank’s operations, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law levying a $15,000 tax on any bank operating within the state not chartered by itself.

With only the Second Bank of the United States fitting the narrow description, the legislation was a clear attack on the institution’s existence. Refusing to pay, the Maryland Court of Appeals argued “the Constitution is silent on the subject of banks” and thus ruled the Second Bank to be unconstitutional. However, upon arrival in the Supreme Court as McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, a different interpretation was imposed. Ruling the “Necessary and Proper” Clause of the Constitution granted the federal government implied powers not expressly stated, the court equally ruled the federal government was superior to the states and thus could not be impeded in a valid exercise of power.