Marbury v. Madison
Citation: 5 U.S. 137 (1803) Concepts: Judicial v. Executive Power/Judicial Review
In his last few hours in office, President John Adams made a
series of midnight appointments to fill as many government posts as possible
with Federalists. One of these appointments was William Marbury as a federal justice of
the peace. However, Thomas Jefferson took over as President before the appointment was
officially given to Marbury. Jefferson, a Republican, instructed Secretary of State James
Madison to not deliver the appointment. Marbury sued Madison to get the appointment he
felt he deserved. He asked the Court to issue a writ
requiring Madison to deliver the appointment. The Judiciary Act, passed by Congress in
1789, permitted the Supreme Court of the United States to issue such a writ.
Whether the Supreme Court of the United States has the power,
under Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution, to interpret the constitutionality of a
law or statute passed by Congress.
The Court decided that Marburys request for a writ of
mandamus was based on a law passed by Congress that the Court held to be
unconstitutional. The Court decided unanimously that the federal law contradicted the
Constitution, and since the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, it must reign
supreme. Through this case, Chief Justice John Marshall established the power of judicial
review: the power of the Court not only to interpret the constitutionality of a law or
statute but also to carry out the process and enforce its decision.
This case is the Courts first elaborate statement of its power of judicial review. In language which remains relevant today, Chief Justice Marshall said, lt is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Nowhere in the Constitution does the Court have the power that Chief Justice Marshall proclaimed. Despite there being no mention of such power in the Constitution, since 1803, our Nation has assumed the two chief principles of this case: that when there is a conflict between the Constitution and a federal or state law, the Constitution is supreme; and that it is the job of the Court to interpret the laws of the United States.
Fletcher v. Peck
Citation: 6 Cr. 87 (1810) Concepts: Ex Post
Facto Legislation/Contract Clause
In 1795, the Georgia legislature sold thirty-five million acres
of Native American land to four land speculating companies for one-half million dollars. In 1796, a newly elected legislature rescinded and
revoked the sale of the land because of widespread fraud and bribery that influenced the
original sale of the thirty-five million acres.
Mr. John Peck purchased some of the land from one of the original
land speculating companies and resold the land to Mr. Robert Fletcher. When Mr. Fletcher learned of the new
legislatures repeal of the original land sale, he demanded his contract with
Mr. Peck be declared null and void and his money be returned. Mr. Fletcher claimed his sale of land to Mr. Peck
was valid and protected by the Contracts Clause, Article 1, Section 10, of the
Constitution of the United States.
Can the contract entered into by Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Peck be
invalidated by the new law passed by the Georgia legislature?
In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the original land grant was a valid contract despite the fact that it was corruptly passed by the Georgia legislature. The Court held that the new Georgia legislature could not annul the land sale ex post facto (after the fact). The Court noted that nothing in the Constitution allows states to pass laws which void contracts or land grants made by previous state legislatures. The Constitution prohibits states from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts.
Dartmouth College v. Woodward
Citation: 4 Wheat. 519 (1819)
Concepts: Contractual Obligations/State
Dartmouth College was established in 1769 under a corporate
charter from King George III of England, which was to last forever. When
the United States was formed, the agreement with the King became an agreement with the
state of New Hampshire. In 1816, the New
Hampshire state legislature amended (changed) the Colleges charter, making it a
state university, enlarging the number of trustees, and revising the educational purpose
of Dartmouth College. The trustees of the
College protested, stating that the original charter was still valid, and sued. Daniel
Webster represented Dartmouth College and argued that such amendments were contrary to the
original charter and therefore could not be changed by the state.
Whether the Dartmouth Colleges private corporate charter
was constitutionally protected against any state law designed to interfere with the nature
and purpose of the original charter.
In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Dartmouth College charter was a contract and was unconstitutionally interfered with by the new laws enacted by the New Hampshire legislation. Chief Justice Marshall stated that the College charter was a contract protected by the Constitution and the state of New Hampshire was bound to respect the original charter.
McCulloch v. Maryland
Citation: 17 U.S. 316
Necessary & Proper Clause/Federal Supremacy v. State Rights
The state of Maryland brought an action against James William
McCulloch, a cashier in the Maryland branch of the Bank of the United States, for not
paying a tax the state had imposed on the United States Bank.
Whether the state of Maryland had the right to tax a federal
agency which was properly set up by the United States Congress.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the power to tax involves the power to destroy, and that the federal governments national bank was immune to state taxation. The Court reasoned that Congress could set up a United States Bank and write laws necessary and proper to carry out its constitutional power to coin and regulate money.
Gibbons v. Ogden
Citation: 22 U.S. 1
Interstate Commerce/Federal Supremacy v. State Rights
Robert Livingston secured from the New York State Legislature an
exclusive twenty-year grant to navigate the rivers and other waters of the State. The
grant further provided that no one should be allowed to navigate New York waters by steam
without a license from Livingston and his partner, Robert Fulton, and any unlicensed
vessel should be forfeited to them. Ogden had secured a license for steam navigation from
Fulton and Livingston. Gibbons originally had been partners with Odgen but was now his
rival. Gibbons was operating steamboats between New York and New Jersey under the
authority of a license obtained from the United States. Ogden petitioned the New York
court and obtained an injunction ordering Gibbons to stop operating his boats in New York
Whether the New York statute that prohibited vessels licensed by
the United States from navigating the waters of New York was unconstitutional and,
Writing for the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Marshall said that the injunction against Gibbons was invalid because the monopoly granted by the New York statute conflicted with a valid federal law. The Court used this case to put forth the position that Congress can legislate and regulate all matters of interstate commerce as long as there is some commercial connection with another state. While interstate commerce is regulated by Congress, power to regulate completely internal commerce (trade carried on in a state that does not affect other states) is reserved to the states.
Cherokee Indian Case
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
Citation: 5 Pet. 1 (1831) Concepts: Sovereignty of Indian
Nations/ Reserve Power of States
In 1791, a federal treaty granted the Cherokee Indians land
within the boundaries of Georgia. In the
1820s the state began to enforce strict laws which were meant to assert control over the
Indians and their land. The Cherokee Nation
filed suit requesting the Supreme Court of the United States to order the state to stop
enforcing these laws. The Georgia officials
refused to participate in the suit. Meanwhile,
Georgias governor and legislature executed a Cherokee Indian, Corn Tassel, under the
laws being contested by the Cherokee Nation. This
was in direct defiance of the Supreme Courts notice to the state of Georgia that it
was looking into the conviction of Corn Tassel, thus furthering the problem.
Whether the state of Georgia could enforce its state laws upon
the Cherokee nation and deny the constitutional jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court denied the Cherokees request reasoning it had no jurisdiction to decide such a case. Chief Justice Marshall wrote, this is not the tribunal that can redress the past or prevent the future.
Second Cherokee Indian Case
Worcester v. Georgia
Citation: 6 Pet. 515 (1832) Concepts: State Powers/Federal Jurisdiction/Tribal
A Georgia law required all whites living in Cherokee Indian
Territory to obtain a state license. Two
missionaries refused to obey the state law, were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to
four years of hard labor for violating the state licensing law. They appealed their case to the Supreme Court of
the United States arguing that the laws they had been convicted under were
unconstitutional because states have no power or authority to pass laws concerning
sovereign Indian Nations.
Whether States had the reserve power to pass laws concerning the
The Court ruled that the State had no power to pass any laws affecting the Cherokees because Federal jurisdiction over the Cherokees was exclusive. The missionaries convictions were therefore reversed. This case led to much disagreement within the three branches of government. The President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was rumored to have said that the Chief Justice has made his decision with this case, now let him enforce it. In what has been described as a political outcome to this case, the state of Georgia would, in time, pardon the two missionaries.
Dred Scott v. Sanford
Citation: 60 U.S. 393
Slavery/Question of Citizenship v. Fifth Amendment/Property Rights
Dred Scott, a slave, was taken by his owner, Sanford, into
northern federal territory. Scott felt that he was free because of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which excluded slavery
from specified portions of United States territories. When he came back to Missouri, Scott
sued his owner for his freedom.
Whether Dred Scott, a slave, was a citizen of the United States
and legally entitled to use the courts to sue.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that slaves were
property, not citizens and, therefore, Dred Scott was not entitled to use the courts. The
Court focused on the rights of the owner, not the slave, saying that black people had no
rights that white people were bound to respect. Justice Taney said that freeing Scott
would be a clear violation of the Fifth Amendment because it would amount to depriving
Sanford of his property without due process of law. He also said that Congress had no
power to prohibit slavery in the territory and that the Missouri Compromise
[Justice Taney is considered one of the most prominent chief justices; however, Dred Scott has been widely criticized throughout history. Justice Taney believed that if he decided the case in favor of Scott, immediate civil war would have resulted. Associate Justice Curtis of Massachusetts disagreed so strongly with Taneys decision that he left the Court.]
Ex Parte Merryman
Citation: 17 F. Cas.
144, No. 9487 Concepts: Writ of Habeas Corpus/(Cir. Ct., D.
Maryland, 1861) Executive Power v. Civilian
John Merryman favored the South in the Civil War. A month after
the war began in 1861, he was arrested and jailed for burning railroad bridges. His arrest
was based on a vague suspicion of treason. There was no warrant issued, nor were there any
witnesses nor proof of any illegal action. Merryman wrote to Chief Justice Roger Taney,
asking for a writ of habeas corpus so that his case would be tried in a civilian court.
Chief Justice Taney issued the writ. However, the military commander in charge of
Merrymans trial ignored the writ, citing President Lincolns suspension of
habeas corpus in certain parts of the country.
Whether the President of the United States has the power to
suspend a writ of habeas corpus without the consent of Congress; and whether Merryman was
deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.
Chief Justice Taney, who was holding circuit court (which Supreme
Court justices did then), challenged President Lincolns suspension of the writ of
habeas corpus. The Chief Justice believed that the President drew too much power to
himself without the consent of Congress. He criticized the President for improperly
substituting military authority for civilian authority and emphatically warned that the
people of the United States were no longer
living under a government of laws, but ... at the will and pleasure of the army officer in
whose military district they happen to be found.
[Eventually, Merryman was handed over to civilian authorities,
and Congress gave the President the power, which he had previously drawn to himself, to
suspend the privilege of habeas corpus at his discretion during wartime].
Ex Parte Milligan
Citation: 4 Wall. 2
(1866) Concepts: Executive
Powers/Legislative Powers/Civilian Courts
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln instituted trial
by military commission for civilians in areas where civil courts continued to function. In 1864, L.P. Milligan, a rebel, was tried and
convicted of conspiracy by a military commission in Indiana. He was sentenced to die for his role in a plan to
release and arm Confederate prisoners to invade Indiana.
L.P. Milligan appealed his conviction by the military commission to the Supreme
Court of the United States.
Whether the President of the United States or the United States
Congress can replace civilian courts with military courts to try civilians.
The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that the
President acted unconstitutionally when he instituted trial by military commission for
civilians. The Court further reasoned that neither Congress nor the President have the
power to authorize military commissions to try civilians in areas outside actual war
zones. The decision established that martial
law must be confined to theaters of active military operations.
Butchers Benevolent Association of New Orleans
The Crescent City Livestock Landing and Slaughterhouse Co.
Citation: 16 Wall. 36 (1873) Concepts: 14th Amendment Rights/Monopolies
New Orleans butchers charged that the state of Louisiana had
violated their Fourteenth Amendment Rights by granting one company the exclusive rights to
operate a slaughterhouse in New Orleans. The
butchers alleged that the state-granted monopoly to one company deprived them of their
right to earn a living, a right among those privileges and immunities guaranteed by the
Whether the state of Louisianas grant of a monopoly
abridged the privileges or immunities of citizens by depriving them of due process and
property rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 that Louisiana
had not violated the Fourteenth Amendment by granting a monopoly on the slaughterhouse
business to one company for New Orleans. The
Court stated that the right of the other butchers to do business was neither a
privilege and immunity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, nor an aspect of
property protected by the due process guarantee of the same amendment. In
this, its first major interpretation of the recently ratified Fourteenth Amendment, the
Court argued that the amendment applied to rights associated with United States
citizenship, not those under state citizenship, and therefore only prevented states from
interfering with the former.
Munn v. Illinois
Citation: 94 U.S. 113
Public-Private Property/FreeEnterprise v. State Rights
Midwestern farmers felt that they were being victimized by the
exorbitant freight rates they were forced to pay to the powerful railroad companies. As a
result, the state of Illinois passed a law that allowed the state to fix maximum rates
that railroads and grain elevator companies could charge.
Whether the regulation of railroad rates by the state of Illinois
deprived the railroad companies of property without due process of law.
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Illinois law
because the movement and storage of grain were considered to be closely related to public
interest. This type of economic activity could be governed by state legislatures, whereas
purely private contracts could only be governed by the courts. The Court held that laws
affecting public interest could be made or changed by state legislatures without
interference from the courts. The Court said, For protection against abuse by
legislatures, the people must resort to the polls, not the courts.
Civil Rights Cases
Citation: 109 U.S. 3 (1883) Concepts: The 13th & 14th Amendments/Powers of
In 1875, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act
which declared it a crime to deny equal access and enjoyment of public accommodations to
citizens of every race or color. However,
most privately owned, but publicly used theaters, hotels, restaurants, trains, and other
such businesses, within several states, continued to deny black customers use of their
facilities. Five separate cases, each from
different states, were merged together to form the Civil Rights Cases. In all five of the cases, the lawsuits were based
upon the Civil Rights Act of 1875 because they alleged continued discrimination.
Whether the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments provided the
United States Congress power to establish laws barring discrimination in privately owned
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 8-1 that Congress
had overstepped its authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment with the passage of the
Civil Rights Act of 1875, and therefore, the act was invalid. The Court cited that the Fourteenth Amendment only
applied to discriminatory action taken by states, not the discriminatory actions taken by
individuals in the private sector. The Court
also reasoned that private discrimination does not violate the Thirteenth Amendments
prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude.
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad
Citation: 118 U.S. 394
Corporate Tax/State Power to Tax v. Equal Protection
Santa Clara County taxed the Southern Pacific Railroad. However,
the corporation refused to pay the taxes, claiming that the taxes were assessed at the
full monetary value without the discount that was given to individual property owners for
extremely large mortgages. The Southern Pacific claimed that under the Fourteenth
Amendment, their corporation, which should be treated as an individual, was denied equal
protection under the law.
Whether corporations should be treated as individuals under the
Fourteenth Amendment; and whether the state of California denied Southern Pacific Railroad
equal protection under the law.
The Supreme Court of the United States agreed with the railroad
and upheld the lower court decision that Santa Clara County wrongfully taxed the Southern
Pacific Railroad. Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, corporations are
treated as individuals; therefore, their taxes should be assessed at a smaller value, the
same way it is done for individual property owners.
[This case is often cited in other cases because it stands for
the principle that the word person in the
Fourteenth Amendment applies to corporations as well as natural persons and both are
entitled to the equal protection of the laws under the Constitution. Thus, corporations
are now considered legal persons and can sue and be sued.]
Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois
Citation: 118 U.S. 557
Individual Property Rights v. State Rights/Commerce Clause
An Illinois statute imposed a penalty on railroads that charged
the same or more money for passengers or freight shipped for shorter distances than for
longer distances. The railroad in this case charged more for goods shipped from Gilman,
Illinois, to New York, than from Peoria, Illinois, to New York, when Gilman was eighty-six
miles closer to New York than Peoria. The intent of the statute was to avoid
discrimination against small towns not served by competing railroad lines and was applied
to the intrastate (within one state) portion of an interstate (two or more states)
Whether a state government has the power to regulate railroad
prices on that portion of an interstate journey that lies within its borders.
The Supreme Court of the United States held the Illinois statute
to be invalid and that the power to regulate interstate railroad rates is a federal power
which belongs exclusively to Congress and, therefore, cannot be exercised by individual
states. The Court said the right of continuous transportation from one end of the country
to the other is essential and that states should not be permitted to impose restraints on
the freedom of commerce. In this decision, the Court gave great strength to the commerce
clause of the Constitution by saying that states cannot impose regulations concerning
price, compensation, taxation, or any other restrictive regulation interfering or
seriously affecting interstate commerce.
[One year after Wabash, Congress
enacted the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). This Commission had the power to
regulate interstate commerce.]
Chae Chan Ping v. United States
Citation: 130 U.S. 581
Between 1848, when gold was discovered in California, and the
time of this case, the number of Chinese laborers in the United States greatly increased.
During this short time, the Chinese immigrant population grew to become seventeen percent
of the California population. This threatened American workers jobs; in response
Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Act permitted the United States to
regulate the flow of Chinese immigrants into the United States. Chae Chan Ping, a subject
of the Emperor of China and a laborer by trade, lived in San Francisco, California. He
left for China in 1875, but was not allowed to return to the United States in 1888 because
of the new legislation. Ping contended that the Act violated existing treaties with China
and that he should be allowed to re-enter the United States.
Whether an act of Congress that excluded Chinese laborers from
the United States was a constitutional exercise of congressional power even though the act
conflicted with an existing treaty with China.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Congress did
have the right to deny Chae Chan Pings re-entry into the United States. Saying that
treaties are equivalent to acts of Congress and can be repealed or amended, the Court
reasoned that it was permissible to exclude the Chinese because the preservation of
independence and the security against foreign aggression are the highest duties of every
nation. All other considerations are subordinate. Congress must have the power to do
whatever it may deem essential in order to maintain and protect the United States. Such
power includes the control over the immigration of aliens and their return to the United
States. The Court decided that Congress had the authority to determine whether certain
foreigners should be excluded.
Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Co. v. State of Minnesota
Citation: 134 U.S. 418
Railroad Rates/Procedural Due Process v. State Rights
In 1887, the state of Minnesota passed an act to regulate common
carriers (i.e railroads). The act declared that any unreasonable charge for service in the
transportation of passengers or property was to be unlawful and prohibited. Certain trade
unions complained that the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway charged some shippers
up to four cents per gallon for the transportation of milk. They believed that these
prices were unreasonable and unlawful under the act.
Whether states have the authority to regulate the rates which
railroads charge for transportation of passengers or goods.
The Supreme Court of the United States invalidated the Minnesota
law because it authorized administrative rate-making without providing for judicial review
(a hearing). The Court held that the state of Minnesota has the power to regulate and
question the reasonableness of rates; however, railroads were entitled to more procedural
protection. The Court upheld the state railway commissions right to regulate
railroad rates but the commission had to give the railroads an opportunity to question and
be heard if the rates established by the commission were unreasonable.
United States v. E.C. Knight Co.
Citation: 156 U.S. 1
Anti-Trust Acts/Congressional Power v. Free Enterprise
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed by Congress in 1890, was an
attempt to limit the growth of corporate power. Prior to this case, the American Sugar
Refining Co., through stockholder agreements, purchased stock in smaller companies and
eventually controlled 90 percent of the sugar processed in the United States. The federal
government regarded the acquisition of the sugar refining companies as an illegal
restraint of interstate commerce.
Whether Congress has the authority to regulate manufacturing; and
whether the Sherman Anti-Trust Act outlawed manufacturing monopolies.
The Supreme Court of the United States believed that there were
certain aspects of economic life that should be
regulated by the federal government and other aspects that should be left to the states to regulate. Here, where the federal
government sued under the Sherman Act to break up the
large sugar refining monopoly of Knight, the Court held that the federal government could
not regulate refineries since they were
manufacturing operations that were not directly related to interstate commerce. The Court reasoned that the
states, under the Tenth Amendment, should have
the right reserved to them to regulate local activities, such as
manufacturing. [In subsequent cases, the Court
modified its position and permitted Congress greater regulation of commerce.]
In Re Debs
Citation: 158 U.S. 564
Union Strikes/Commerce Clause v. First & Fourteenth Amendments
Eugene V. Debs, an American railway union officer and one of the
leaders of the Pullman Railroad Car workers strike in 1894, refused to honor a
federal court injunction ordering him to halt the strike. Debs appealed his
contempt of court conviction.
Whether the federal government has the constitutional authority
to stop railroad workers from striking.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision,
upheld the authority of the federal government to halt the strike. The Court reasoned that
the federal government has enumerated powers found in Article 1, Section 8, to
regulate commerce ... among the several states, and to establish post offices
and post roads. When the American Railway Union struck, it interfered with the
railroads ability to carry commerce and mail which benefited the needs and
general welfare of all Americans.
Plessy v. Ferguson
Citation: 163 U.S. 537
Separate But Equal/Equal Protection
v. State Rights
In 1892, Plessy purchased a first class ticket on the East
Louisiana Railway, from New Orleans to Covington,
Louisiana. Plessy, who was of racially mixed descent (one-eighth black and seven-eighths
Caucasian), was a United States citizen and a resident of the state of Louisiana. When he entered the train, he took a seat in the coach
where only whites were permitted to sit. He was told
by the conductor to leave the coach and to find another seat on the train where non-whites
were permitted to sit. Plessy did not move and
was ejected by force from the train. Plessy was sent to jail for violating the Louisiana Act of
1890, which required railway companies to provide separate but equal accommodations for white and
black races. Plessy argued that this law was unconstitutional.
Whether laws which provided for the separation of races violated
the rights of blacks as guaranteed by the
equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Louisiana
Act, which stated that all railway companies
were to provide equal but separate accommodations for white and black races did not violate the Constitution. This law did not take
away from the federal authority to regulate interstate commerce, nor did it violate the Thirteenth
Amendment, which abolished slavery. Additionally, the law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment,
which gave all blacks citizenship, and forbade states
from passing any laws which would deprive blacks of their constitutional rights. The Court believed that separate but equal was
the most reasonable approach considering the social prejudices which prevailed at the time.
[The Plessy doctrine of
separate but equal was overturned by Brown
v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (see p. 24), which held
separate but equal to be unconstitutional.]
United States v. Wong Kim Ark
Citation: 169 U.S. 649
(1898) Concepts: Citizenship/Civil Rights/Immigration
Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in San Francisco, California. At the time of his birth, both his parents were
Chinese citizens, but living as resident aliens in San Francisco. Since his birth, Ark had lived in California, but
at age 17, Wong Kim Ark accompanied his parents to China on a temporary visit. Upon his return to the United States, he was
granted re-entry because he was a native-born citizen.
Again in 1894, Mr. Ark traveled to China, but upon returning to the United States,
he was denied entrance on grounds that he was not a United States citizen.
Whether the United States Customs officers violated Wong Kim
Arks Fourteenth Amendment rights, when they denied him re-entry into the United
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-2 decision, ruled
in favor of Mr. Ark. The fundamental rule of
citizenship by birth includes all children of resident aliens born in this country. Since he was born in the United States, Mr. Ark
was a citizen. The Chinese Exclusion Act
passed in 1882 by the United States Congress couldnt apply to Mr. Ark, for he was a
DeLima v. Bidwell
Citation: 182 U.S. 1
(1901) Concepts: Federalism/Commerce/Imperialism/Colonization/Incorporation
The DeLima Sugar Importing Company sued the New York City
collector of customs to recover duties on sugar imported from Puerto Rico after 1899, when
Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States. DeLima
charged that The Port of New York City had no jurisdiction to collect duties, since Puerto
Rico was annexed by the United States.
Whether Constitutional rights and guarantees afforded residents
of the United States extend to residents of new territories.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
that when the peace treaty between Spain and the United States was ratified on April 11,
1899, Puerto Rico ceased to be a foreign country, but neither was it part of the United
States, protected by the Constitution of the United States.
The Court ruled the Constitution fully applies only to residents in territories
that have been formally incorporated into the United States through treaties or Acts of
Congress. The Court left it up to the United States
Congress to govern territories.
Northern Securities Company v. United States
Citation: 193 U.S. 197 (1904)
Concepts: Restraints of Trade/Federal
The major stockholders of two competing railroad companies set up
a holding company to buy the controlling interest of the two railroads. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 forbade
unreasonable restraints on trade. The
constitutionality of the holding company was brought into question by the United States
government during President Theodore Roosevelts trust busting campaign.
Whether the United States Congress had the authority under the
Commerce Clause in the Constitution of the United States to regulate the holding
companys effort to eliminate competition.
The Supreme Court of the United States in a 5-4 decision found
that a holding company formed solely to eliminate competition between the two railroads
was in violation of the Federal Anti-Trust Act because it unreasonably restrained
interstate and international commerce. The Court ruled that the Federal Anti-Trust Act
could apply to any conspiracy which sought to eliminate competition between otherwise
Dorr v. United States
Citation: 195 U.S. 138
Jury Trial/Rights of the Accused v. Congressional Power Over Territories
After the Spanish American War in 1898, the United States
obtained the Philippines, Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico as territories. In the Philippines,
Dorr was arrested for libel. Dorr was editor of the Manila
Freedom, a radical newspaper opposing the government. Denied a trial by jury, he lost
his case and appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States claiming that his
constitutional right to a trial by jury had been denied.
Whether a trial by jury is necessary in a judicial proceeding in
the Philippine Islands where the accused person has been denied a jury trial.
The Court ruled that a trial by jury in the Philippines, or in
any other United States territory, is not a constitutional necessity, and the
conviction was upheld. The Court concluded that the Constitution gives Congress the power
to acquire and govern new territory but does not provide for the right of trial by jury in
those territories. However, Congress could pass a law requiring trial by jury in the
territories. The territorial government of the Philippines did not have to provide a jury
trial in criminal cases unless Congress passed legislation requiring it to do so.
Lochner v. New York
Citation: 198 U.S. 45 (1905) Concepts: Work Hours Per Week/Individual Property
Rights v. State Police Powers
New York law set limits on how many hours bakery employees could
work. Lochner was convicted and fined fifty dollars for permitting an employee to work
more than the lawful number hours in one week. On appeal, Lochner claimed that the New
York law infringed on his right to make employer/employee contracts.
Whether a law which limited the number of hours bakery employees
were allowed to work interfered with the bakery owners right to make
The Supreme Court of the United States held that even though
states have the power to regulate the areas of health, safety, morals, and public welfare,
the New York law in question was not within the limits of these police powers
of the State.
[This decision marked the beginning of the substantive due
process era, in which the Court struck down a number of state laws that interfered
with an individuals economic and property rights. It was overturned twelve years
later in Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426
Swift v. United States
Citation: 196 U.S. 375
Price Fixing/Free Enterprise v. Congressional Power
Under various congressional anti-trust acts, Congress had the
power to prevent price fixing and monopolies. Swift and other meat packers arranged to fix
or alter the price of livestock bought and sold in Chicago, in violation of these acts.
Swift argued that it was not involved in interstate commerce since the stockyard
transactions were the middle part of the meat packing process and took place only within
Whether the Sherman Anti-Trust Act could bar price fixing by meat
dealers within a state.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that although the
price fixing related to stockyard activities which occurred in one state, they were a part
of a stream of interstate commerce and, therefore, could be regulated by the
federal government under the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.
Muller v. Oregon
Citation: 208 U.S. 412
Employee-Employer Contracts/Tenth Amendment v. Fourteenth Amendment
In 1903, the state of Oregon passed a law prohibiting women from
working in factories or laundries more than ten hours in any day. In 1905, a suit was
filed against Curt Muller for making Mrs. E. Gotcher work more than ten hours in one day.
Found guilty, Muller took his case to the Supreme Court of the United States, charging
that he was wrongly convicted because the legislation of the state of Oregon was
unconstitutional. He believed that his Fourteenth Amendment rights were infringed upon by
his inability to make his own hours for his employees.
Whether the state of Oregon, through its regulation of
womens work hours, violated the privileges and immunities clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment by forbidding the employment of women for more than ten hours a day
in laundries and factories.
The Court held that the Oregon law that barred women (who were
viewed as a weaker class and in need of special protection) from certain factory and
laundry work to be correct and sustained the legislation. The Court distinguished the Lochner case,
where an employers liberty to contract outweighed the states
interest to regulate bakery employees hours, from this case, which took into account
the physical differences between men and women. The Court took judicial notice (based upon
a famous brief submitted by then-lawyer, Louis D. Brandeis) of the belief that
womens physical structure and the function she performs ... justify special
legislation restricting the conditions under which she should be permitted to toil.
Weeks v. United States
Citation: 232 U.S. 383
Search and Seizure/ Police Powers/Exclusionary Rule
Fremont Weeks was suspected of using the mail system to
distribute chances in a lottery, which was considered gambling and was illegal in
Missouri. Federal agents entered his house, searched his room, and obtained papers
belonging to him. Later, the federal agents returned to the house in order to collect more
evidence and took letters and envelopes from Weeks drawers. In both instances, the
police did not have a search warrant. The materials were used against Weeks at his trial
and he was convicted.
Whether the retention of Weeks property and its admission
in evidence against him violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable
search and seizure and his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself.
The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided that
as a defendant in a criminal case, Weeks had a right to be free from unreasonable search
and seizure and that the police unlawfully searched for, seized, and retained Weeks
letters. The Court praised the police officials for trying to bring guilty people to
punishment but said that the police could not be aided by sacrificing the fundamental
rights secured and guaranteed by the Constitution.
[This decision gave rise to the Exclusionary Rule.
This meant that evidence seized in violation of the Constitution cannot be admitted during
Hammer v. Dagenhart
Citation: 247 U.S. 251
Child Labor/Congressional Powers v. State Rights/Commerce Clause
In 1916, Congress passed the Child Labor Law, which prohibited
the interstate transportation of products made by companies that employed young children
who worked long hours.
Whether congressional powers under the commerce clause extended
far enough to prohibit the interstate transportation of products made in factories in
which underage children worked.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States held
that the Child Labor Law of 1916 was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that Congress
was trying to regulate child labor laws by using the commerce clause and that the
employment of children was not directly related to interstate commerce. The Court felt
that Congress should not impinge upon the states right to oversee child labor by
using its power to regulate commerce so as to indirectly regulate child labor.
Schenck v. United States
Citation: 249 U.S. 47
Clear & Present Danger/ Free Speech v. Congressional War Powers
Free Speech v. Congressional War Powers
Charles T. Schenck and Elizabeth Baer, charged with conspiring to
print and circulate documents intended to cause insubordination within the military, were
convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The act made it a crime to
willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal
of duty in the military ... or to willfully obstruct the recruiting service of the United
States. Schenck appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States,
claiming all his actions were protected by the First Amendment.
Whether Schencks and Baers First Amendment right to
freedom of speech were violated when they were convicted of conspiring to obstruct the
recruitment and enlistment of service.
The Court unanimously upheld the conviction of Schenck, not for
violation of the Espionage Act, but rather for conspiracy to violate it. The Court found
that the First Amendment did not apply in this case, and that Schencks speech was
not constitutionally protected because it posed a clear and present danger to
the country. The nation was involved in World War I, and the Court saw Schencks
speech and action as counter-productive to the national war effort. The Court reasoned
that certain speech could be curtailed, using the example of a situation where one cannot
yell fire in a crowded theatre.
Debs v. United States
Citation: 249 U.S. 211
Free Speech v. Congressional War Powers
Eugene V. Debs, a well-known socialist, gave a public speech to
an assembly of people in Canton, Ohio. The speech was about the growth of socialism and
contained statements which were intended to interfere with recruiting and advocated
insubordination, disloyalty, and mutiny in the armed forces. Debs was arrested and charged
with violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
Whether the United States violated the right of freedom of speech
given to Debs in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the lower
courts decision in favor of the United States. The Court said that Debs had actually
planned to discourage people from enlisting in the Armed Forces. The Court refused to
grant him protection under the First Amendment freedom of speech clause, stating that Debs
used words [in his speech] with the purpose of obstructing the recruiting
service. Debs conviction under the Espionage Act would stand, because his
speech represented a danger to the safety of the United States.
Powell v. Alabama
Citation: 287 U.S. 45
Right to Counsel/ Due Process
In what is known as the First Scottsboro Case nine
illiterate, young black men were charged with raping two white girls on a freight train
passing through Alabama. Their trial was held
in Scottsboro, Alabama. Under Alabama law,
rape is a Capital offense (a crime punishable by death).
On the first day of the trial, the defendants attorney withdrew from the
case; the judge then appointed members of the local bar association, most of whom then
withdrew from the case. Although two attorneys did represent the accused, they did so
without having time to investigate the case and with only a half hour of consultation with
the defendants. All defendants were
Were the defendants denied the right to counsel and due process
within the Fourteenth Amendment if they were not given the opportunity to consult with a
lawyer in a timely fashion to prepare for their defense?
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States reasoned that because the defendants were ignorant, illiterate, and young; surrounded by public hostility; under close surveillance by the military and in deadly peril of their lives; the failure of the trial court to give them reasonable time and opportunity to secure counsel and prepare for trial was a clear denial of due process. As a result of this case, states were required to appoint counsel for poor people in all capital cases, and in non-capital cases where denial of counsel would result in an unfair trial. [See Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) (p. 28) for the further expansion of a defendants right to counsel.]
Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States
Citation: 295 U.S. 495
Congressional Power v. Presidential Power/ Commerce Clause/Sick Chickens
During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
established an economic recovery program known as the New Deal. As part of the
program, the President established the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA)
which authorized the President to set codes of fair competition, regulating
certain facets of interstate commerce. The Schechter Poultry Corp. bought, slaughtered,
and sold chickens only in New York State, although some of the chickens were purchased
from other states. Schechter was indicted for disobeying the live poultry
code, one of the codes of fair competition. The government alleged that Schechter
failed to observe minimum wage and hour provisions, permitted customers to select
individual chickens from particular coops and half-coops, sold unfit and uninspected
chickens, and made false reports. Schechter appealed his conviction.
Whether the National Industrial Recovery Act, which gave the
President the authority to regulate certain aspects of commerce during the Depression, was
an unconstitutional delegation of presidential power.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision,
held that the delegation of power made by the NIRA was unconstitutional. The Court held
that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce, not the President, and that
Congress cannot delegate legislative power to the President. Even the extraordinary
conditions of the Depression were not enough for the Court to allow the President to have
more power than the Constitution gave him. Schechters conviction was reversed
because its business indirectly affected interstate commerce. The NIRA was declared
unconstitutional because it exceeded the commerce power that had been given to Congress by
United States v. Butler
Citation: 297 U.S. 1
(1936) Concepts: Federalism/Taxation/ State Rights
As part of the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, the United
States Congress implemented a tax on the processing of agricultural commodities, from
which funds would be redistributed to farmers who promised to reduce their production of
the same agricultural commodities. The Act
intended to solve the crisis in agricultural commodity pricing during Americas Great
Whether the United States Congress exceeded its power to tax and
spend in order to provide for the general welfare, granted by Article I, Section 8, Clause
1, of the Constitution of the United States, and violated the states Tenth Amendment
right to taxation, by enacting the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States found
the Act unconstitutional because it attempted to regulate and control agricultural
production, an area reserved to the states. Even
though the United States Congress has the power to tax and appropriate funds, in this case
those activities were but means to an unconstitutional end, and were therefore
in violation of the reserved powers the states have under the Tenth Amendment.
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.
Citation: 301 U.S. 57
(1937) Concepts: Commerce/Labor Relations/ Unionism
In a proceeding under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935,
the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the Jones & Laughlin Steel
Corporation had violated the act by firing ten union members because of their union
membership. The NLRB demanded the steel company stop discrimination against union workers;
the corporation failed to comply. The Circuit
Court of Appeals refused to enforce the order of the NLRB holding that the order was
outside the range of federal power.
Whether or not the United States Congress involvement in
labor relations went beyond its means to regulate interstate commerce, as found in Article
I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution of the United States.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of the
NLRB, stating that Congress has ability to regulate intrastate matters when they directly
burden, threaten, or obstruct interstate commerce. A
labor strike in the steel factory would disrupt the stream of commerce, and
would have a direct effect on the flow of interstate commerce. Therefore, Congress has the power to regulate all
trade which may upset the balance between inter
and intrastate commerce.
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
Citation: 319 U.S. 624 (1943) Concepts: Flag Salute/State Rights v. Establishment Clause
The West Virginia State Board of Education required by state law
that all students salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance as a part of their
daily routine. Students who refused were suspended, declared unlawfully absent, and
subject to delinquency proceedings. Parents of such students were also subject to a fine
or imprisonment. Several Jehovahs Witnesses, who were citizens of West Virginia,
sought from the court an injunction to stop the West Virginia State Board of Education
from requiring the pledge and flag salute.
Whether flag salute ceremonies in the schools violated
students liberties as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled, 6-3, in favor of
Barnette and the other Jehovahs Witnesses. The Court held that the Board of
Education could not require daily flag salute and pledge as a condition that students must
meet to receive a public education. The Courts ruling provided students
scrupulous protection of their constitutional liberties as guaranteed by the
Hirabayashi v. United States
Citation: 320 U.S. 81
(1943) Concepts: War
Powers/Civil Rights/ Discrimination
Reacting to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the
United States into World War II, the President of the United States, Franklin D.
Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief of all Armed Forces, acted to prevent incidents of
subversion and espionage by individuals of Japanese descent living in the United States. He issued two executive orders, which were quickly
passed into law by the United States Congress. These
laws gave the Secretary of War the power to designate certain parts of the country as
military areas which excluded all Japanese.
The second established the War Relocation Authority, which authorized the removal,
maintenance, and supervision of all persons excluded from the military areas. Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi, a student at the
University of Washington, was convicted for violating a curfew and relocation order.
Whether the Presidents executive orders and the United
States Congress ratification of the executive orders exceeded the constitutional
powers of the national government to impose restrictions on individuals of Japanese
descent and whether the national government violated Japanese descendants due
process guarantee of life, liberty or property found in the Fifth Amendment of
the Constitution of the United States.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of the United States
found the Presidents executive orders and the establishment of the curfew to be
constitutional. The restrictions placed on
Japanese Americans and resident aliens of Japan served a military and national security
interest, and the Court viewed the curfew as a necessary protective measure...in
time of war.
Korematsu v. United States
Citation: 323 U.S. 214
Japanese Relocation/Equal Protection v. Executive Powers
Between 1941 and 1945, there were strong anti-Japanese feelings
in the United States due to the war with Japan. In May 1942, Korematsu, an American
citizen of Japanese descent, was convicted in federal court of knowingly remaining
in a designated military area in San Leandro, California. His actions violated
Exclusion Order #34 and Executive Order #9066 of 1942, which had been issued to protect
the West Coast from acts of espionage and sabotage. The Acts required all
Japanese-Americans living in restricted areas to go to inland relocation centers.
Korematsu believed the order violated his constitutional rights.
Whether Executive Order #9066 of 1942, violated Korematsus
Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the law and his Fifth Amendment right to
life, liberty, and property; and whether, because of the special circumstance of the world
war, Congress or the President had the power to violate Korematsus constitutional
In a rare decision, 6-3, the Supreme Court of the United States
ruled that an entire race could be labeled a suspect classification, meaning
that the government was permitted to deny the Japanese their constitutional rights because
of military considerations. Because a number of Japanese may have been disloyal, the
military felt that complete exclusion of persons of Japanese ancestry from certain areas
was essential during wartime. The Court ruled that such exclusion was not beyond the war
powers of Congress and the President since their interest in national security was
Dennis v. United States
Citation: 341 U.S. 494
Overthrow of Government/Free Speech v. National Security
Eugene Dennis was a leader of the Communist Party in the United
States between 1945 and 1948. He was arrested in New York for violation of Section 3 of
the Smith Act. The Act prohibited advocation of the overthrow of the United States
Government by force and violence. The government felt that the speeches made by Dennis
presented a threat to national security. Dennis appealed his conviction to the Supreme
Court of the United States, claiming that the Smith Act violated his First Amendment right
to free speech.
Whether the Smith Act violated the First Amendment provision for
freedom of speech or the Fifth Amendment due process clause.
The Court found that the Smith Act did not violate Dennis
First Amendment right to free speech. Although free speech is a guaranteed right, it is
not unlimited. The right to free speech may be lifted if the speech presents a clear and
present danger to overthrow any government in the United States by force or violence.
Since the speech made by Dennis advocated his position that the government should be
overthrown, it represented a clear and present danger to the national security of the
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Citation: 347 U.S. 483
School Segregation/Equal Protection v. State Rights
Four black children sought the aid of the courts to be admitted
to the all-white public schools in their community after having been denied admission
under laws which permitted racial segregation. The youths alleged that these laws deprived
them of the equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment, even though their
all-black schools were equal to the all-white schools with respect to buildings,
curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other tangible
Whether segregation of children in public schools denies blacks
their Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection under the law.
The Supreme Court of the United States looked not to the
tangible factors but the effect of segregation itself on public education. The
Court decided unanimously that segregation of black children in the public school system
was a direct violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It
rejected the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, 164 U.S. 537 (1896), and stated
that this doctrine had no place in education. According to the Court, even if the
facilities were physically equal, the children of the minority group would still receive
an inferior education. Separate educational facilities were held to be inherently
Watkins v. United States
Citation: 354 U.S. 178
Self-Incrimination/Un-American Activities/Right to Remain Silent
v. Congressional Investigation
Watkins was convicted of violating a federal law that made it a
crime for any person summoned as a witness by a congressional committee to refuse to
answer any question asked by the committee. He had been summoned to testify before the
House Committee on Un-American Activities. He testified about his own activities but
refused to answer questions about whether other persons were members of the Communist
Party. Watkins refused to answer the questions because he believed they were outside the
scope of the Committees activities and not relevant to its work.
Whether Watkins was within his rights to refuse to answer; and
whether his conviction was a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that Watkins
conviction was invalid. The Court said that Congress had to spell out its purpose
specifically to guarantee that people summoned to testify are treated fairly and given all
their rights. The Court held that congressional committees are required to uphold the Bill
of Rights and must grant citizens the freedom of speech. Such committees are restricted to
the areas of investigation delegated to the committees, and no witness can be made to
testify on matters outside those areas.
Yates v. United States
Citation: 354 U.S. 298
Communist Party/Free Speech v. Congressional Power
In 1951, fourteen persons were charged with violating the Smith
Act for being members of the Communist Party in California. The Smith Act made it unlawful
to advocate or organize the destruction or overthrow of any government in the United
States by force. Yates claimed that his party was engaged in passive actions and that any
violation of the Smith Act must involve active attempts to overthrow the government.
Whether Yates First Amendment right to freedom of speech
protected his advocating the forceful overthrow of the government.
The Supreme Court of the United States said that for the Smith
Act to be violated, people must be encouraged to do something, rather than merely to
believe in something. The Court drew a distinction between a statement of an idea and the
advocacy that a certain action be taken. The Court ruled that the Smith Act did not
prohibit advocacy of forcible overthrow of the government as an abstract
doctrine. The convictions of the indicted members were reversed.
Mapp v. Ohio
Citation: 367 U.S. 643
Warrantless Search/Right to Privacy v. State Police Powers
In May 1957, Cleveland police officers received a tip that Miss
Mapp was in possession of a large number of betting slips, and that a bomber was hiding in
her home. When the police arrived at her house, Mapp refused to admit them without a
search warrant. A few hours later, the police knocked again, then forcibly opened the
door. A struggle ensued and Mapp was put in handcuffs, taken upstairs, and kept there
while police searched her apartment. During the search, obscene materials were discovered
in a trunk in her basement. Mapp was arrested for possession and control of obscene
Whether Miss Mapps Fourth Amendment right to be secure from
search and seizure was violated during the search of her home.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Mapps
Fourth Amendment right to be secure from search and seizure was violated. The Court held
that both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protected persons from unwarranted federal
and state intrusion of their private property.
Baker v. Carr
Citation: 369 U.S. 186
(1962) Concepts: Reapportionment/ Equal Protection/Voting
In 1960, potential voters for members of the Tennessee
Legislature brought a class action suit charging that some members of the legislature
represented larger numbers of people in some voting districts while other legislators
represented very small numbers of voters, thus creating disproportional representation
among people living in the more populated voting districts.
Whether or not the unequal voter representation was in violation
of the Fourteenth Amendments Equal Protection Clause, and whether the apportionment
of the state legislative districts is a question within the jurisdiction of the federal
By a 6-2 ruling the Supreme Court of the United States agreed
that Tennessees failure to reapportion their voting districts had created electoral
districts for the state legislature of unequal population.
Individuals living in the cities, although with larger populations, were
underrepresented while those living in the country, with a smaller population, held the
majority of representation. Two thirds of the
State Senate was elected by only one third of the state population. The Court ruled this clearly deprived voters of
equal protection found in the Fourteenth Amendments Equal Protection Clause.
Engel v. Vitale
Citation: 370 U.S. 421
School Prayer/Establishment Clause v. State Rights
The Board of Education of New Hyde Park, New York, instructed the
schools of their district to have students recite a NYS Regents-composed prayer at the
beginning of each school day. Parents of a number of students challenged this policy. They
said that the official prayer was contrary to their religious beliefs and that a
governmental agency did not have the right to force prayer on students. The parents felt
that the prayer violated the First Amendments separation of church and state
provision. The state contended that it was a non-denominational prayer and that the
schools did not compel any student to recite it.
Whether a non-denominational prayer, recited in every classroom
in a school district, violated the First Amendments provision for separation of
church and state.
The Supreme Court of the United States found that the school
district violated the students First Amendment rights because even though the
students did not have to say the prayer, the reciting of the prayer in class would put
unwanted pressures on them. Further, this non-denominational
prayer was found to be too religious for the state to mandate and was in violation of the
establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Abington School District v. Schempp
Citation: 374 U.S. 203
Bible Readings/Reserved Clause v. Establishment Clause
A Pennsylvania statute required that at least ten verses
from the Holy Bible shall be read at the opening of each public ... school day. A
student could be excused from the Bible reading with a written note from a parent or
guardian. The Schempp family, who had children in the Abington school system, disapproved
of the Bible reading because it violated their religious beliefs. The family refused to
write a letter to have their children excused, and took legal action to stop the school
district from conducting the daily Bible readings. The district court ruled in favor of
the Schempp family. The school district appealed to the Supreme Court of the United
Whether a state, in creating a statute that promotes prayer in
its public school system, is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment,
which states that the government may not establish any religion.
The Court declared the law calling for prayer in
school unconstitutional because it represented an establishment of religion by
government. Stating that this was a direct violation of the establishment clause of the
First Amendment, the Court prohibited Bible readings in public schools.
Gideon v. Wainwright
Citation: 372 U.S. 335
Right to Counsel v. Rights of the
Accused v. State Rights
Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in 1961, and charged with
breaking and entering a pool hall with intent to commit petty larceny (a felony). He did
not have enough money for a lawyer and asked that one be appointed to defend him. The
judge denied the request, saying that under Florida state law, counsel can be appointed
only in a capital offense. Gideon was sentenced to five years in prison. He then filed a
writ of certiorari (petition of appeal) to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking
for a case review. The Court granted Gideons request and appointed Abe Fortas to
Whether the state of Florida violated Gideons Sixth
Amendment right to counsel, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, by
not providing him with the assistance of counsel for his criminal defense.
The Court ruled unanimously in Gideons favor, and held that
the Fourteenth Amendment included state as well as federal defendants. The Court said that
all states must provide an attorney in all felony and capital cases for people who cannot
afford one themselves. Through the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, the Sixth
Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel applies to the states. [Gideon was retried in
Florida and found not guilty.]
Escobedo v. Illinois
Citation: 378 U.S. 478
Right to an Attorney/Self- lncrimination/ Rights of the Accused v. State Rights
lncrimination/ Rights of the Accused v. State Rights
Escobedo was arrested in 1960, in connection with the murder of
his brother-in-law. After his arrest, he requested to see his lawyer but was not allowed
to do so. After persistent questioning by the police, Escobedo made a statement which was
used against him at his trial and he was convicted of murder. He appealed to the Illinois
Supreme Court, which affirmed the conviction. Escobedo then appealed to the Supreme Court
of the United States.
Whether the state of Illinois violated Escobedos Fourteenth
Amendment protections, his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and his Sixth Amendment
right to assistance of counsel by denying his request to speak to a lawyer before
The Court found that the denial by the police of Escobedos
right to counsel and their failure to inform him of his right to remain silent were
clearly unconstitutional. Furthermore, the Court held that incriminating statements made
by defendants are inadmissible as evidence unless the accused is informed of his rights
before making the statements.
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States
Citation: 379 U.S. 241
Discrimination/lndividual Property Rights v. Congressional Power Commerce Clause
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed by the United States
Congress, prohibited racial discrimination and segregation in public accommodations. The
owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel refused accommodations to blacks and filed suit,
claiming that such control over an individuals business was not within the powers of
Whether the United States Congress, under its authority to
regulate interstate commerce, has the power to require private businesses within a state
to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination in places of
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 was constitutional. The Court said that the commerce clause of the
Constitution empowers Congress to regulate both commercial and non-commercial interstate
travel. Since the motel served interstate travelers, its refusal to accommodate blacks
posed a potential obstruction to their freedom of movement across state lines. Congress
has a right to regulate individual businesses in the interest of promoting interstate
Miranda v. Arizona
Citation: 384 U.S. 436
Self-lncrimination/Rights of the Accused v. State Police Powers
Ernesto Miranda was convicted of rape and kidnapping. His
conviction was based in part on incriminating statements he made to the police while they
interrogated him. At no time during the questioning did the police inform Miranda that he
did not have to talk to them or that he had the right to a lawyer when being questioned by
Whether the state of Arizona violated the constitutional rights
of Miranda under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments when they interrogated him
without advising him of his constitutional right to remain silent.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, ruled
that the police were in error. The Court held that the police must inform suspects that
they have the right to remain silent, that anything they say may be used against them, and
that they have the right to counsel before the police may begin to question those held in
[Miranda established the Miranda Warning which police now use prior to interrogation of persons arrested.]
Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, Va.
Citation: 391 U.S. 430
Desegregation/Equal Protection v. State Rights
A small school district with two high schools and a fifty percent
ratio black and white student population adopted a freedom of choice plan
whereby students could choose their own public school. Based on free choice,
black and white students segregated themselves. Green protested, claiming that the
freedom of choice plan created a segregated school community instead of an
Whether the districts freedom of choice plan,
resulting in a segregated school community, violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the
mandate of the Supreme Court of the United States established under the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
The Court unanimously decided in favor of Green. The Court noted
that the first major school desegregation decision, Brown,
held that segregated schools were inherently unequal. The Court held that the
districts freedom of choice plan did not and would not bring about
desegregation. The Court emphatically placed on the School Board of New Kent the burden of
formulating a desegregation plan that would immediately and realistically achieve
integration in its schools.
[Green is important
because it set in motion the direction the federal district courts took during the 1970s,
in ordering busing and other affirmative desegregation steps so that a non-racial system
of public education could be achieved.]
Epperson v. Arkansas
Citation: 393 U.S. 97
Teaching of Evolution/Establishment Clause v. State Rights
An Arkansas statute forbade teachers in public schools from
teaching the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower
order of animals. A teacher determined that the law was invalid and lost her job for
violating it. The Supreme Court of the United States was called in to review this statute
which made it unlawful for teachers in state schools to teach human evolution.
Whether the Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of
evolution violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the equal
protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because of its religious
The Court held that the Arkansas statute forbidding the teaching
of evolution in public learning institutions was contrary to the freedom of religion
mandate of the First Amendment, and was also in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The
Court ruled that a state may not eliminate ideas from a schools curricula solely
because the ideas come in conflict with the beliefs of certain religious groups. In this
case, the law that compelled the evolution doctrine to be removed from the course of study
was passed to agree with the religious point-of-view of certain fundamentalists. Thus, the
reason for removing the doctrine was to aid a religious point-of-view and, therefore, was
violative of the First Amendment. The Court said that the law must require religious
Tinker v. Des Moines School District
Citation: 393 U.S. 503
Symbolic Speech/Students Right
to Free Speech v. State Rights
In December 1965, Marybeth and John Tinker planned to wear black
arm bands to school signifying their protest of the Vietnam War. School officials became
aware of the plan beforehand and adopted regulation banning the wearing of such armbands.
Failure to comply with this regulation would result in suspension until the student
returned to school without the armbands. Both Tinkers went ahead and wore the black
armbands to school. They were suspended and told not to return with the armbands. The
Tinkers claimed that their rights of free speech and expression, which are protected under
the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, had been violated, and that
they should have been allowed to attend school wearing the armbands.
Whether Marybeth and John Tinker have a First Amendment right to
free speech to wear black armbands as a symbol of protest in a public school.
The Court decided that the students did have a right to wear the
armbands. It reasoned that the wearing of the armbands was an exercise of the
students right to free, silent, symbolic speech,
which is protected under the First Amendment: Students do not shed their
constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, and therefore are entitled to the free
expression of their views as long as there is no substantial
or material interference of the educational process.
Oregon v. Mitchell
Citation: 400 U.S. 112
Right to Vote/State Rights v.
Several states challenged the Federal Voting Rights Act
Amendments of 1970, which lowered the right to vote to age 18, expanded bans on literacy
tests, and prohibited application of state durational residency requirements in
Whether Congress could grant 18-year-olds the right to vote in
federal and state elections.
The Court ruled to sustain the Voting Rights Act Amendments with
respect to federal elections, but struck it down with respect to state elections.
[This decision was handed down on December 21, 1970. Three months
later, Congress submitted the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the states for ratification. On
June 30, 1971, the states ratified the Twenty-Sixth Amendment which provided 18-year-olds
the right to vote in all state and federal elections.]
New York Times Co. v. United States
Citation: 403 U.S. 713
Pentagon Papers/Free Press v. Executive Power
The United States wanted to restrain the New York Times and the Washington Post newspapers from publishing a
classified study on Vietnam policy entitled, History of United States Decision
Making Process on Vietnam Policy, commonly called Pentagon Papers.
Whether the President of the United States had the power to stop
the publication of historical news that might have an impact on the Vietnam War.
The Supreme Court of the United States said that prior restraints
(prohibiting information from being published or aired) are almost never valid. The
Government must strongly justify any abridgment of a newspapers freedom of speech.
Since, in the eyes of the Court, national security was not threatened by the printing of
the Pentagon Papers, no prior restraint was necessary and the
Governments attempt at censorship was unconstitutional.
P.A.R.C. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Citation: 334 F.Supp.
1257 Concepts: Education for the Handicapped/(D.C.,
D.C.,1971) Equal Protection v. State Rights
Several parents of mentally retarded children who were not
getting an education brought a class action suit (under the Pennsylvania Association for
Retarded Children) on behalf of all mentally retarded persons who lived in Pennsylvania
and who had been denied access to a free public education program appropriate to the
individual students capacity.
Whether the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanias denial of
educational treatment for the mentally retarded violated the equal protection rights under
the Fourteenth Amendment.
The U.S. District Court found that mentally retarded persons are
capable of benefiting from education and/or training. They can, with the states
help, achieve self-sufficiency or self care. Pennsylvania, having undertaken to provide a
free education to all of its children, must provide mentally retarded children an
educational program that will meet their needs. Educational programs should take place,
when possible, in a regular public school classroom.
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education
Citation: 402 U.S. 1
In Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Swann deals with how school districts such as the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina may restructure their attendance
zones to comply with the Brown decision. The
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education proposed a plan that involved busing students to
balance the ratio of black to white students in its schools.
Whether forced busing and a restructured school system are
methods of complying with the integration demands set forth in Brown.
In a unanimous decision, the Court stated that changing
attendance zones and busing students to various schools to create racial balance within
the schools are acceptable solutions to the problem of segregated school systems. Only
when a childs health or education might be significantly hurt by busing, should it
be banned. The Court said a school district has broad powers to fashion a remedy
that will assure a unitary school system.
Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia
Citation: 348 F.Supp.
866 (1972) Concept:
Education for Exceptional Children Equal Protection v. State Rights
Equal Protection v. State Rights
Seven children of school age were denied education because they
were mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, hyperactive, or had behavioral problems.
The Board of Education did not provide schooling for these exceptional children, violating
controlling statutes and their own board regulations. It was also estimated that 18,000
similar exceptional children in the Washington, D.C., area were not in school.
The D.C. school system admitted that it had failed its duty to provide these children with
publicly supported education suited to their individual needs. It also had failed to
provide prior hearings and periodic reviews of each exceptional student case.
Whether the Board of Educations failure to provide
schooling, hearings, and periodic reviews for exceptional children violated
the childrens equal protection and due process rights of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States said that the Board of
Education of the District of Columbia violated such rights as due process and certain
statutes and regulations. The Court held that the Board of Education must provide public
schooling for the exceptional children, along with a hearing beforehand to decide whether
the child was exceptional. A plan was devised to adopt due process hearing procedures
similar to that which the children requested. The Court said that the Board of Education
had an obligation to provide whatever specialized instructions were needed to benefit the
children, and that every child between the ages of seven and sixteen shall be provided
regular instructions. No child eligible for public education should be excluded from
school unless an adequate alternative suited to the childs needs was provided.
Furman v. Georgia
Citation: 408 U.S. 238
(1972) Concepts: Equal Protection/Due Process
William Henry Furman, a 26 year old African American, attempted
to burglarize a home in Georgia. When the
homeowner awoke and attempted to stop him, Mr. Furman tried to escape. He tripped and dropped his gun, which went off,
killing the homeowner. At the trial, Mr.
Furman was found guilty of murder, despite a claim of mental incompetence. Under Georgia statute, the jury had the option of
recommending the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Mr. Furman was sentenced to death. His
lawyer argued the Georgian death penalty law was excessively cruel and: (1) made
rehabilitation impossible; (2) imprisonment was an available alternative; and (3) the
death penalty was imposed almost exclusively on poor people and black persons.
Whether Mr. Furmans death sentence was a violation of the
Eighth Amendments Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause and the Equal Protection and
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In a 5-4 decision
the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all existing state death penalty laws. The justices reasoned these death penalty laws
left almost unlimited discretion to the judges or juries in deciding the sentence. The majority of the justices agreed that almost
all those convicted in capital trials were black or poor or both, which they found capriciously selective. The Court did not declare capital punishment a
violation of the Eighth Amendments Cruel and Unusual Punishment clause. Instead, it declared the existing death penalty
laws violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Roe v. Wade
Citation: 410 U.S. 113
Abortion/Right of Privacy v. State Rights/Reserve Powers
A Texas woman sought to terminate her pregnancy. However, a Texas
law made it a crime to procure or attempt an abortion except when the mothers life
would be in danger if she remained pregnant. Ms. Roe challenged the Texas law on the
grounds that the law violated her right of personal liberty given in the Fourteenth
Amendment and her right to privacy protected by the Bill of Rights.
Whether state law which bans or regulates abortion violates a
womans right to privacy or personal choice in matters of family decisions or
The Supreme Court of the United States decided that states could
regulate abortions only in certain circumstances but otherwise women did have a right to
privacy and reproductive autonomy. The Court divided a womans pregnancy into three
time periods: 1) during the first trimester (the first three months of pregnancy), states
may not interfere with a womans decision to have an abortion; 2) during the second
trimester, states could regulate abortions, but only if such regulation was reasonably
related to the mothers health; and, 3) during the third trimester, which occurs
after the fetus (unborn child) reaches viability (the stage at which it can survive
outside the mothers body), states may regulate absolutely and ban abortions
altogether in order to protect the unborn child. The womans right to privacy was
held to be a fundamental right which could only be denied if a compelling state interest
existed. Once the fetus reaches a viable stage of development, such a
compelling point is reached because the unborn child is now given constitutional
United States v. Nixon
Citation: 418 U.S. 683
Watergate/Federal Due Process v. Executive Privilege
In the first half of 1972, the Democratic National Headquarters
at the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C., was broken into. The investigation
that followed centered on staff members of then Republican President Richard M. Nixon. The
Special Prosecutor subpoenaed certain tapes and documents of specific meetings held in the
White House. The Presidents lawyer sought to deny the subpoena. The Special
Prosecutor asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case before the lower
appeals court ruled on the Presidents appeal to deny the subpoena.
Whether the United States violated President Nixons
constitutional right of executive power, his need for confidentiality, his need to
maintain the separation of powers, and his executive privilege to immunity from any court
demands for information and evidence.
By an 8-0 vote, the Court decided that President Nixon must hand
over the specific tapes and documents to the Special Prosecutor. Presidential power is not
above the law. It cannot protect evidence that may be used in a criminal trial.
Goss v. Lopez
Citation: 419 U.S. 565
Suspension/State Rights v. Students
Several public high school students (including D. Lopez) were
suspended from school for misconduct but were not given a hearing immediately before or
after their suspension. School authorities in Columbus, Ohio, claimed that a state law
allowed them to suspend students for up to ten days without a hearing. The students
brought a legal action, claiming that the statute was unconstitutional because it allowed
school authorities to deprive students of their right to a hearing, violating the due
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Whether the suspension of a student for a period of up to ten
days without a hearing constitutes a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth
The Supreme Court of the United States said that education is a
property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendments due process clause and any
suspension requires prior notice and a hearing. Permitting suspension without a hearing
is, therefore, unconstitutional. The Court said that oral or written notice of the charges
brought against a student must be given to the student who is being suspended for more
than a trivial period. If he denies the charges, the student must be given a hearing. The
hearing may be an informal one where the student is simply given an explanation of the
evidence against him and an opportunity to tell his side of the story.
University of California Regents v. Bakke
Citation: 438 U.S. 265
Affirmative Action/State Rights v. Equal Protection
Allan Bakke, a white male, applied to the University of
California at Davis Medical School. He was denied admission because he did not meet the
standard entrance requirements. Davis Medical School also had a special admissions program
for minorities. Sixteen per cent of the available places were reserved for minorities who
did not meet the standard entrance requirements. Bakke argued that the requirements for
special admissions to the medical school were discriminatory because only
African-American, Chicano, and Asian students could compete for these places. The
University of California argued that its special admissions program remedied the long
standing historical wrong of racial discrimination.
Whether the Universitys special admissions program, which
accepted minority students with significantly lower scores than Bakke, violated
Bakkes Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights; and whether the University was
permitted to take race into account as a factor in its future admissions decisions.
The Supreme Court of the United States did not render a majority
opinion in this case (i.e., one in which five or more of the nine justices agree). Six
separate opinions were written, and no more than four justices agreed in whole in their
reasoning. The Court ordered Bakkes admission to Davis Medical School and
invalidated the Universitys special admissions program because the program barred
people like Bakke from applying for the special admissions seats in the medical school.
However, of much greater significance was the fact that the Court allowed institutions of
higher learning to take race into account as a factor in their future admissions
decisions. Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackman said that this aspect was the
central meaning of the case: Government may take race into account when it acts not
to insult any racial group but to remedy disadvantages cast on minorities by past racial
[While to some observers Bakke won a place in the school and the
particular special admissions program at Davis was invalidated, the case really stands as
a landmark civil rights-affirmative action decision. Race may hereafter be taken into
account as a factor in college admissions.]
Plyler v. Doe
Citation: 457 U.S. 202 (1982) Concepts:
Rights of Aliens/ Equal Protection
In 1981, the state of Texas passed a statute (Tex. Educ. Code
Ann. sec. 21.031) which prohibited the use of state funds for the education of any
children who were not citizens of the United States.
They did this for three reasons: first, it would prevent illegal immigrants from
wanting to enter the state; second, the state would not be burdened with educating illegal
immigrants; and, third, the state would not be educating people who would likely leave the
Does a state in denying an education to the children of illegal
immigrants deprive them of equal protection of the law as found in the Fourteenth
In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
that a state may not deny a public education to the children of illegal immigrants unless
they can show a substantial state interest. The
Court ruled none of the three reasons given by Texas were substantial enough to allow the
state to deny a public education to these illegal immigrants children. The Court
also said that denying the children an education could lead to illiteracy and would deny
them an ability to become productive
participants in our civic society.
Board of Education, Island Trees School District v. Pico
Citation: 457 U.S. 853
Book Banning/Reserved Clause v. First Amendment
The Board of Education of the Island Trees School District in New
York directed the removal of nine books from the libraries of the Island Trees senior and
junior high schools because in the Boards opinion the books were
anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy. Some books
included were: The Fixer, Soul on Ice,
Slaughterhouse Five, Go Ask Alice, The Best Stories by Negro Writers, and others. Four students from
the high school and one from the junior high school sued the school district, claiming
that the removal of the books was a violation of the First Amendments guarantee of
freedom of speech.
Whether the First Amendment limits a local school boards
discretion to remove library books from senior and junior high school libraries.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the
students, saying that the books were not required reading. According to Justice Brennan,
who cited West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), Local
school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike
the ideas contained in these books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be
orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion. He also
cited Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393
U.S. 503 (1969), saying that high school students have First Amendment rights in the
classroom. Although the schools have a right to determine the content of their libraries,
they may not interfere with a students right to learn. Therefore, the schools may
not control their libraries in a manner that results in a narrow, partisan view of certain
matters of opinion. The Court stood against the removal or suppression of ideas in
New Jersey v. T.L.O.
Citation: 469 U.S. 325
Search & Seizure/State Rights v. Students Due Process
In 1980, a teacher at Piscataway High School, New Jersey,
discovered two girls smoking in the lavatory. Since smoking was a violation of a school
rule, the two students, T.L.O. and a companion, were taken to the principals office.
There they met with the assistant vice-principal who demanded to see T.L.O.s purse.
Upon opening the purse, he found cigarettes and cigarette rolling paper. He proceeded to
look through the purse and found marijuana, a pipe, plastic bags, money, lists of names,
and two letters that implicated her in drug dealing. T.L.O. argued the search of her purse
Whether the state of New Jersey and its agent, the assistant
vice-principal, violated T.L.O.s Fourth Amendment right of protection from
unreasonable search, her Fifth Amendment right of protection from
self-incrimination, and her right to due process as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court of the United States held for the school and
its assistant vice-principal. The Court reasoned that to maintain discipline in school,
the school officials who have reasonable suspicion that a student has done
something wrong can conduct a reasonable search of the suspicious student. A schools
main objective is to educate students in a legal, safe learning environment. Police need
probable cause, a higher standard, to search people, places, and things.
School officials, unlike the police, need only reasonable suspicion to search
students when they believe unlawful conduct is occurring.
Wallace v. Jaffree
Citation: 472 U.S. 38
Moment of Silence/State Rights v. Establishment Clause
The parents of three children attending public school in Alabama
challenged the constitutionality of an Alabama law which authorized a one minute period of
silence in all public schools for meditation or voluntary prayer.
Whether the Alabama law requiring a one minute silence period
encouraged a religious activity in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Alabama law
was a law respecting the establishment of religion and thus violated the First Amendment.
The Court said that the First Amendment was adopted to limit the power of Congress to
interfere with a persons freedom to believe, worship, and express himself as his
conscience tells him. The Amendment gives an individual the right to choose a religion
without having to accept a religion established by the majority or by government.
The Court said that government must be completely neutral toward
religion and not endorse any religion. Therefore, statutes like the Alabama law requiring
one minute for silence in the schools must have a secular or non-religious purpose to be
within the Constitution. Since Senator Holmes, who was the primary sponsor of the bill,
testified that the bill was an effort to return voluntary prayer to our public
schools, the Court decided that the purpose of the Alabama law was to endorse
religion and was solely an effort to return voluntary prayer to the public schools. It
was, therefore, struck down as being inconsistent with the Constitution.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
Citation: 484 U.S.
260,108 S.Ct. 562 (1988) Concepts: Censorship/State Rights v.
Kathy Kuhlmeier and two other journalism students wrote articles
on pregnancy and divorce for their school newspaper. Their teacher submitted page proofs
to the principal for approval. The principal objected to the articles because he felt that
the students described in the article on pregnancy, although not named, could be
identified, and the father discussed in the article on divorce was not allowed to respond
to the derogatory article. The principal also said that the language used was not
appropriate for younger students. When the newspaper was printed, two pages containing the
articles in question as well as four other articles approved by the principal were
Whether the Hazelwood School District violated the freedom of
expression right of the First Amendment by regulating the content of its school newspaper.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Hazelwood
School District did not violate the First Amendment right of the students. The Court ruled
that although schools may not limit the personal expression of students that happens to
occur on school grounds, Tinker v. Des Moines,
393 U.S. 503 (1969), they do not have to promote student speech that they do not agree
with. This decision gave schools the power to censor activities such as school plays and
school newspapers as long as the school finances the activities and there are grounds for
the censorship. The Court said in Tinker that
in order to censor a students expression, the expression must substantially disrupt
the schools educational process, or impinge upon the rights of others. This case
broadened that guideline to include censorship of unprofessional, ungrammatical or obscene
speech, or speech that goes against the fundamental purpose of a school.
Texas v. Johnson
Citation: 491 U.S. 397 (1989) Concepts: Flag
In 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag in front of
the Dallas City Hall. He burned the flag as a
means of protest against the policies of President Ronald Reagans Administration.
Under Texas law desecration of the American flag is a criminal offense. Mr. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to
one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Does a law against desecration of the American flag violate an
individuals right to freedom of speech as found in the First Amendment?
In a 5-4 decision
the Supreme Court of the United States found that desecrating the flag as an act of
protest is an act of expression, an act protected by the First Amendment. The Court found that burning the American flag was
political speech which Justice Brennan wrote ...is the bedrock principle
underlying the First Amendment. Government
may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself
offensive or disagreeable.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services
Citation: 492 U.S. 490 (1989) Concepts:
Abortion/Right to Privacy
In 1986, the State of Missouri passed laws barring the use of
public funds, public facilities or public employees to perform abortions, unless the life
of the mother was in question. The Missouri
law also required all doctors to test fetal viability. Blacks Law Dictionary
defines viability as when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely
outside the womb by natural or artificial life-supportive systems. The Missouri law outlawed abortions if viability
Did the Missouri laws infringe upon a womens right to
privacy and an abortion as provided for through the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments?
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld
Missouris significant restrictions on abortion and ruled that prohibiting the use of
public funds to support abortions does not deny an individual the right to an abortion as
established in Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113
(1973). The Court ruled nothing in the
Constitution requires a state to support funding an abortion. The Court also ruled that a states interest
in viability testing is allowable.
Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health
Citation: 497 U.S. 261 (1990) Concepts:
Right to Die/State Police Powers
In 1983, Nancy Beth Cruzan was involved in an automobile accident
which left her in a persistent vegetative state with no sign of recovery. In the hospital her life support system consisted
of artificial feedings through a gastronomy tube. After
several weeks, Ms. Cruzans parents attempted to terminate the life-support system
based on statements Nancy had made before the accident that she would not want to live
as a vegetable. State hospital
officials refused to terminate the life-support systems arguing that they were bound to
preserve human life.
Did the states refusal to terminate Nancys life
support system violate the Cruzans Fourteenth Amendment due process and liberty
interest rights to refuse unwanted medical treatment?
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States found
that a person did have a liberty interest under the due process clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment to refuse medical treatment, provided
they were competent and there was clear and convincing evidence the person did
not want artificial support to keep them alive. Without this evidence a state obligation
to preserve human life overrules the wishes of the patient or parents. In this case, the Cruzans had no clear or
convincing evidence like a living will to terminate the life support
Metro Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission
Citation: 497 U.S. 547
Civil Rights/Equal Protection
Under Congressional authority, the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) adopted policies which favored minority-owned stations for broadcasting
licenses. These policies gave minority
applicants preferential treatment for new licenses and existing licenses which
were up for sale. The policies were
considered a form of affirmative action which
helped the Federal government achieve their
objective to create broadcast diversity. Metro
Broadcasting appealed the FCC policy which awarded a television license to Rainbow
Did the preferential treatment policies of the United States
Congress and the Federal Communications Commission violate the equal protection clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment?
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States said
that Congress has the power to authorize preferential treatment policies if they serve an
important specific governmental interest. The
specific interest here is to promote broadcast diversity and increase the ownership of
minority broadcasting companies. In this case
the Court recognized that broadcast diversity is essential to a democracy and upheld the
FCC license of Rainbow broadcasting.
Harmelin v. Michigan
Citation: 501 U.S. 957 (1991) Concepts: Cruel and Unusual/ Proportionality
Under Michigan law any person found in possession of more than
650 grams of cocaine will be sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison without the
possibility of parole. Mr. Harmelin was
convicted of possessing 672 grams of cocaine and was sentenced to life in prison. He claimed his sentence was unconstitutional because it was cruel and unusual, and
significantly disproportionate to the crime he committed, which was nonviolent
and victimless. Further, he claimed the judge
should be required by law to impose the sentence after considering the criminal record of
Does Michigans mandatory life in prison sentence violate
the Eighth Amendments protection against cruel and unusual punishment?
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States held
that the Eighth Amendment only requires a state to consider whether a person deserves a
particular penalty in capital crimes (death penalty).
Harmelins sentence was life in prison without parole (non-capital). The Court
claimed that a sentence can be cruel as long as it is not also unusual. The Court responded to Mr. Harmelins claim
that his crime was nonviolent and victimless, pointing out that studies confirmed illegal
drugs, particularly cocaine, pose a threat to society in terms of violence, crime, and
social displacement. The Court reasoned that
the cocaine Harmelin possessed had a yield of up to 65,000 doses which justified the life
sentence without parole. The Court concluded in this case that the state of Michigan did
not need to consider the defendant's lack of a prior criminal record.
Lee v. Weisman
Citation: 505 U.S. 577
(1992) Concepts: School Prayer/ Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Religion
In June of 1989, Deborah Weisman, a 14 year old, graduated from
Nathan Bishop Middle school; a public school in Providence, Rhode Island. For years, the superintendent of schools permitted
the middle schools principals to invite members of the clergy to give invocation and
benediction prayers at the graduation ceremony. The
principal of Nathan Bishop Middle School invited a rabbi to deliver prayers at
Deborahs class graduation ceremony. The
Weismans went to court to stop the school officials from inviting clergy to pray at
Do school officials, who invite clergy to provide prayer at a
graduation ceremony, violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment?
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
that allowing prayers as part of a school program is unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that allowing such conduct
creates subtle and indirect coercion, forcing students to act in a way which may establish
a state religion. Students however, are free
in a public school to engage in voluntary private prayer.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey
Citation: 550 U.S. 833
Abortion/Due Process/Liberty/ Privacy/State Rights
The Pennsylvania legislature amended its 1982 abortion control
law in 1988 and 1989 to add five new regulations. The new provisions required a 24-hour
waiting period prior to the abortion. All minors seeking an abortion would need consent of
at least one parent. All married women seeking an abortion had to notify their husbands of
their intention to abort the fetus. (The law allows for a judicial bypass procedure if the
consent and notification requirement create extenuating circumstances.) Final detailed
reporting requirements on abortion facilities and services had to be maintained.
Whether or not the rights of a woman to abort her fetus is
a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against substantial
obstacle established by a state.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision,
reaffirmed a womans liberty to have an abortion as it had in the Roe v. Wade decision. The Court, however, upheld most of the state of
Pennsylvania's abortion control law provisions reasoning that these provisions do not
create an undue burden or substantial obstacle for women seeking
an abortion. Under this new undue
burden test, the only provision to fail was the husband notification requirement.
Vernonia v. Acton
Citation: 115 S. Ct. 2386 (1995) Concepts:
Student Search and Seizure
Vernonia school district of Oregon, concerned about the drug
problem among athletes and students in their own school community and America in general,
sought to reduce the problem by creating a student-athlete drug policy. School officials worried that drug use by athletes
might produce more risk of sports-related injuries. The
Vernonia school district student-athlete drug policy authorized urinalysis drug testing of
student athletes. James Acton refused the
urinalysis test and was disallowed participation in the schools junior high football
Does drug testing of students athletes violate their protection
against unreasonable search and seizure provided in the Fourth Amendment?
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States
reasoned that drug testing of student athletes was constitutional. The Court accepted the argument that student
rights were lessened at school if it was necessary to maintain student safety and to
fulfill the educational mission of the school.
Reno v. A.C.L.U.
Citation: 117 S. Ct.
2329 (1997) Concepts:
The 1996 Federal Communications Decency Act sought to protect
minors from indecent and offensive Internet materials. The Act made it a crime
to transmit obscene or indecent messages over the Internet.
Whether the 1996 Communications Decency Act violates the First
and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution by being vague in its definition of the types of
Internet communications it could find unlawful.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 7-2 decision, held
the Communications Decency Act violated the First Amendment. The Court reasoned the act did not clearly define
indecent. The Court felt the act could establish a content-based blanket
restriction of free speech and the act did not demonstrate an authority on the unique
nature of the internet and its social value.
Clinton v. New York City
(1998) Concepts: Veto/Separation
In 1997, the United States Congress passed The Line Item Veto
Act. This act
permitted the President of the United States to cancel or veto one provision of an
act without vetoing the entire act. Specifically, it gave the President the power to
cancel: 1) any dollar amount of discretionary budget; 2) any item of new direct spending;
and 3) any limited tax benefit the act would allow.
President William J. Clinton exercised his authority by canceling one provision in
the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and two provisions in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.
Does the Line Item Veto Act violate the separation of powers
outlined in Article I, II and III of the Constitution of the United States?
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
that the Line Item Veto Law was unconstitutional. A
law granting the President the ability to cancel provisions of a law would alter the very
process by which a bill becomes law under the Constitution according to Article 1, Section
7, Provision 2. This fact would change the
very nature of the separation of powers designed by the founding fathers.
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