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035 - Case Law Simplified
Transcript of 035 - Case Law Simplified
Linda Brown, a third grader in Topeka, KS was required to walk six blocks to get on her bus to attend her all-black school despite the fact that a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Her case, combined with two other cases, was presented to the Supreme Court.
In a 9-0 decision, the Warren Court ruled that "separate" is not equal and that the practice of racial segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This landmark case overturned Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and harkened in desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Miranda v Arizona (1966)
Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Phoenix, AZ on circumstantial evidence of kidnapping and raping a 17 year old girl. Miranda was interrogated and signed a confession to the crime. His confession was used in court and he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. His attorney objected on the grounds that his confession was not voluntary.
This case made its way to the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda, who did not know his rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments, was coerced into his confession. This made the confession inadmissible. Furthermore, the court ruled that the police should warned Miranda prior to his confession about his rights.
The Miranda case was landmark because it established what we know today as "Miranda Rights;" after a person is arrested, they must be informed of their Constitutional rights.
Gibbons v Ogden (1824)
The state of New York passed a law giving Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton (inventor of the steamboat) the exclusive right to have steamboats on New York waterways. This created a monopoly.
A petition was filled by a company that operated a steamboat between New Jersey and New York stating that the State of New York was interfering with Congress' right to regulate interstate commerce.
In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot make a law that supersedes Congress' power to regulate trade under the Commerce Clause. It also reaffirms the Supremacy Clause of the United States that the national government has supremacy over state laws.
Gideon v Wainwright (1963)
Someone broke into a pool hall in Panama City, FL, broke into a cigarette machine and stole some money from the cash register. A witness claimed he saw Clarence Gideon outside the pool hall early in the morning after the break-in.
Gideon was arrested. He requested a court-appointed attorney because he was too poor to afford one. He was denied an attorney because, according to Florida law, counsel was only granted to people in capital cases. Gideon was found guilty of the break-in and sent to prison. He petitioned the Supreme Court from his prison cell.
The Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that everyone arrested has the right to an attorney and if someone cannot afford one, the state was obligated to provide representation.
Griswold v Connecticut (1965)
In the 1960's, Connecticut law stated that "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception." Estelle Griswold opened a Planned Parenthood in Connecticut in order to test the law. She was arrested and fined. She took the State of Connecticut to court.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court established that people have a right to privacy by combining aspects of the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 9th Amendments to the Constitution. With this right to privacy, the state cannot interfere with the privacy of married couples and their decisions concerning contraception.
This landmark case laid the groundwork for the landmark cases "Roe v Wade," "Eisenstadt v Baird" and "Lawrence v Texas."
Roe v Wade (1973)
In 1969, Norma L. McCorvey (at the time, she kept her anonymity), wanted terminate her pregnancy with an abortion. Abortion was illegal under Texas law. She sued that she had a right to have an abortion on constitutional grounds.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to have an abortion fell under the right to privacy. States could regulate abortions, but a woman has a total right to her pregnancy.
This landmark case is considered on of the most controversial cases in American history.
Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972)
William Baird was charged with distributing contraception to an unmarried woman Boston. Massachusetts law made it a felony to distribute contraception to unmarried people. This law was challenged in federal court.
In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. This decision expanded the scope of the contraception-privacy issue of the Griswold v Connecticut from married couples to unmarried couples. It also did this based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This ruled that treating married and unmarried couples differently is unconstitutional.
Dred Scott v Sandford (1857)
Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri owned by Dr. John Emerson, an army doctor residing in St. Louis. Dr. Emerson was relocated by the army to Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory, areas both without slavery. Dr. Emerson took Dred Scott with him and retained ownership. Dr. Emerson was then reassigned back to Missouri. Dred Scott argued that he should have his freedom because he was a resident of a free state.
In a 7-2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott was a slave and not a citizen of the United States. Therefore, he could not argue his case before the court. It also ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional by stating that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
Many legal scholars consider the Dred Scott Case one of the worst decisions in American history.
Korematsu v United States (1944)
In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 and congressional statutes gave the military authority to exclude citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to national defense and potentially vulnerable to espionage. As a result, thousands of Japanese-American were sent to relocation camps. Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American, defied this order and chose to stay in San Leandro, CA.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found against Korematsu. They ruled that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu's rights.
Many legal scholars consider the Korematsu Case one of the worst decisions in American history.
Mapp v Ohio (1961)
Police outside Cleveland, OH received a tip about a bombing suspect. The tip said that bombing equipment and illegal gambling equipment were to be found in the home of Dollree Mapp. Mapp refused to allow the officers into her home without a warrant. The officers produced a "piece of paper" and said it was a warrant, search the home and found no bombing or gambling equipment. They did, however, find pornographic materials and arrested her.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the search violated the Fourth Amendment and the evident obtain in the illegal search could not be used against her. For the first time, the Exclusionary Rule extended to states as well as the federal government. The Exclusionary Rule is the legal principle that evident obtained in an illegal search is inadmissible in court.
Escobedo v Illinois (1964)
Danny Escobedo taken into custody in the investigation of the murder his brother-in-law. Escobedo requested a lawyer, but he was denied representation because he had not been charged. Based on statements he said during an interrogation, he was charged and convicted of murder. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The Gideon case ruled in favor for the right to an attorney after indictment. The Escobedo case established the right to an attorney during police interrogation or custody.
Buck v Bell (1927)
Carrie Buck was an 18 year old woman who was committed to a Colony for the Feeble-Minded in Virginia (home for people considered to be mentally retarded or with other mental problems). It was claimed that she had the mental age of a nine year old. Her mother was also considered to be "feeble-minded" and involved in prostitution. It was decided that Carrie Buck be sterilized to prevent pregnancy.
The case was brought before the Supreme Court. The issue was whether Buck's due process rights and equal protection under the 14th Amendment to procreate were being violated. In an 8-1 decision, the Court found in favor of Virginia and that the state did follow due process procedures by having a hearing on the status of Carrie Buck. In a famous quote by Justice Holmes, Virginia had the right to sterilize because "being swamped with incompetence . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough." in order to protect the health and well-being of the state.
Near v Minnesota (1931)
Jay Near published "The Saturday Press" in Minneapolis. In the publication, Near charged that local officials were being controlled by Jewish gangsters. Minnesota officials obtained an injunction to prevent Near from publishing his newspaper under a state law that allowed such action. The law provided that any person "engaged in the business" of regularly publishing or circulating an "obscene, lewd, and lascivious" or a "malicious, scandalous and defamatory" newspaper or periodical was guilty of a nuisance, and could be blocked from future publication.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional as a violation of the 1st Amendment Freedom of Speech. It Court ruled that the state cannot, except in rare cases, prohibit speech in advance of publication.
Schenck v United States (1919)
Charles Schenck was the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America. He published thousands of leadlets opposing the draft of World War I. The leaflets did not urge violence, but noncompliance with the draft. Schenck was arrested under the Espionage Act of 1917. Schenck sued claiming that his First Amendment rights were being violated.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that his arrest and conviction were constitutional. The case established the "Clear and Present Danger Test" which states that speech that could promote a dangerous outcome to people is not protected.
This case was greatly narrowed in 1969.
Brandenburg v Ohio (1969)
Clarence Brandenburg, a rural KKK leader outside Cincinnati, OH, invited a television station to cover his rally. There, Brandenburg delivered a speech advocating violence. Many of his followers were in robes and carrying firearms. He even advocated a march on Washington, DC on the Fourth of July. Brandenburg was arrested under an Ohio law prohibiting speech that advocates violence and terrorism to advance a political agenda.
His case was brought before the US Supreme Court and in an 8-0 decision, struck down the Ohio law. A two-pronged test was created to evaluate speech: 1) speech can be prohibited if it is "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and (2) it is "likely to incite or produce such action." The Ohio law prohibited the advocacy of doctrines while ignoring whether or not that advocacy would actually incite imminent lawless action. This greatly narrowed the ruling from the Schenck Case.
Chaplinsky v New Hampshire (1942)
Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah's Witness, was passing out pamphlets deriding organized religion. When a angry crowd block the street around Chaplinsky, police took him into custody to protect him. Claplinsky called the town marshal a "God-damned racketeer" and "a damned Fascist." After saying this, he was arrested for breach of peace and convicted. He claimed that his First Amendment right to the Freedom of Speech was violated.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court validated the arrest. It was ruled that some speech can be considered "fighting words," and that laws that limit such language are considered constitutional.
West Virginia v Barnette (1944)
The West Virginia Board of Education required that students salute the flag as a part of the program of activities in all public schools. Refusal to salute was treated as "insubordination" and was punishable by expulsion and charges of delinquency. The Barnette family were Jehovah's Witnesses and refused to salute the flag on religious grounds. There children were kicked out of school.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the law and prohibited schools from forcing students to salute or say a pledge to the flag.
Tinker v Des Moines (1969)
In in December of 1965, a group of students in the Des Moines Independent Community School District planned a protest of the Vietnam War at their high school by wearing black armbands. When the school administration found out about the planned protest, they quickly made a school policy prior to the protest banning black armbands. When the Tinkers arrived at school with their armbands, they were kicked out until they removed them. Their parents sued the school district for violating their right to expression.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the school did violate their Freedom of Speech because it could not prove that the students' conduct in question “materially and substantially interfere” with the operation of the school. If the school could prove that speech or certain types of expression would interfere with school operations, then school can suppress those actions.
New Jersey v T.L.O. (1985)
In 1980, two freshmen girls were caught smoking in the bathroom at Piscataway High School in New Jersey. The principal searched the purse of a student referred to as T.L.O. and found evidence that she was not only smoking, but dealing marijuana. The parents of T.L.O. sued the school district on the grounds that her Fourth Amendment rights to unwarranted searches and seizures were violated.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the school right to search on the grounds that schools do not need "probable cause" in order to search. Rather, school only need "reasonable suspicion."
Bethel v Frasier (1986)
In 1983, Matthew Fraser, a senior in a high school in Pierce County, Washington, gave a speech to nearly 600 students for his friend who was running for Student Body Vice President. The speech in support of his friend was full of sexual innuendos but no profanity. Fraser was suspended and banned from speaking at graduation. The Fraser family sued claiming that Matthew's First Amendment rights were violated.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that school have a right to limit certain kinds of speech if it is clear that such speech would be disruptive to the school. The school's policy on sexual vulgarity did fit that requirement.
Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier (1988)
In 1983, the journalism class at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, MO submitted its monthly edition of the school newspaper to the building principal. The principal found two article to be inappropriate for school. The articles concerned teen pregnancy and divorce. The principal made the decision to remove the pages from the newspaper that contained the two articles.
In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court that the actions of the school did not violate the students' First Amendment rights. School can edit or omit speech it finds is not "reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns." This decision empowers public schools to exercise editorial powers concerning students work.
Santa Fe ISD v Doe (2000)
It was a tradition that a student elected as Santa Fe High School's (Texas) student council chaplain delivered a prayer, over the public address system before each home varsity football game. Two families filed a lawsuit suit under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the District's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the Establishment Clause.
Morse v Frederick (2007)
In early 2002, high school students in Juneau, AK were allowed to leave to watch the Olympic Torch pass through the city. Joseph Frederick, who was late to school, joined some of his friends on the sidewalk and held up a banner saying, "Bong Hits for Jesus." When the principal saw the banner, she ran across the street and took it down. Frederick was suspended from schools for 10 days for violating the schools anti-drug policy. Frederick took his case to federal court on the grounds that his First Amendment rights were violated.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 5-4 decision in favor of the school district. The school was within its rights to censor the banner. Roberts wrote, "Under these circumstances, we agree with the superintendent that Frederick cannot 'stand in the midst of his fellow students, during school hours, at a school-sanctioned activity and claim he is not at school.'"
Engel v Vitale (1962)
The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day. The prayer was as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country." Several Jewish families in Hyde Park, NY sued claiming that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the prayer, even though it was nondenominational, did violate the Establishment Clause.
Abington School District v Schempp (1963)
Pennsylvania law required public school students to hear and read portions of the Bible as part of their education. The parents of Ellroy Schempp sued in court claiming the school and the state were violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state law did violate the Establishment Clause. It also stated that it did not matter that parents were allowed to excuse students from these ceremonies, the fact that the school and the state allow such practices is in violation of the Constitution.
Furman v Georgia (1972)
A person woke up one night to find William Furman breaking into his house. As Furman tried to escape, he tripped and his gun went off killing one of the occupants of the house. Furman was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Furman v Georgia was combined with two other cases: Jackson v Georgia and Branch v Texas. All involved the death penalty. In a 5-4 decision, the court found the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional. However, the five justices voting in the majority could not come to a common reason why the death penalty was unconstitutional. The only common theme was that there were no rational standards that determined when it was imposed and when it was not.
July 2 Cases (1976)
The July 2 Cases were the following: 1) Gregg v Georgia, 2) Proffitt v Florida, 3) Jurek v Texas, 4) Woodson v North Carolina, and 5) Roberts v Louisiana. All of the cases involved the death penalty.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, reversing Furman v Georgia. The Court held that the death penalty was allowed if two items are followed. First, state law must provide objective criteria to direct and limit the death sentencing discretion. This must include an appeals court review of all death sentences. Second, the state laws must allow the judge or jury to take into account the character and record of an individual defendant who may face the death penalty. The Court also ruled that the death penalty may only be considered for extreme cases.
Coker v Georgia (1977)
Ehrlich Anthony Coker escaped from a Georgia prison in 1974. He was serving time in prison for murder, rape, kidnapping, and assault. While on the run, he broke into the home of Elnita Carver of Waycross, GA. He raped her and stole her car. Coker was apprehended and convicted of rape and other crimes. He was sentenced to death for the rape due to his history of capital offenses.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was "grossly disproportionate" to the crime of rape. It was considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Ford v Wainwright (1986)
Alvin Bernard Ford was sentenced to death in 1974 for 1st Degree Murder. In 1982, while still on death row, Ford's mental state began to collapse. He was examined by three psychiatrists and they determined that he was suffering from psychosis. Despite this finding, the Governor of Florida signed the death warrant on Ford. Ford sued in Federal Court that his execution would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the execution of the insane constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Atkins v Virginia (2002)
In 1996, 18 year old Daryl Atkins and his friend abducted at gunpoint Eric Nesbitt, an airman from Langley Air Force Base. He was abducted at a convenience store. He was then driven to an ATM machine to withdraw money for the abductors. Afterward, he was driven to an isolated location and shot eight times, killing him.
Atkins was arrested and sentenced to death. However, his defense argued that he had an IQ of 59 (mildly mentally retarded) and that he should not given the death penalty.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the mentally retarded cannot be executed on the grounds that it is cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Roper v Simmons (2005)
Christopher Roper, age 17, planned out a burglary and murder with two of his friends. Roper and his friend tied up Shirley Crook to a chair, drove her to a river in St. Louis County and threw her off a bridge killing her. Roper was arrested and found guilty of 1st Degree Murder. He was sentenced to death.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for a juvenile was a violation of the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.
Kennedy v Louisiana (2008)
Patrick O. Kennedy was found guilty outside of New Orleans of brutally raping his 8-year old stepdaughter. Her injuries were so severe that she required multiple surgeries to repair the damage. Under Louisiana law, he was sentenced to death for raping a child under the age of 12 years. Despite the fact that the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in the Coker Case, Louisiana argued that the ruling only applied to the rape of an adult.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its ban of the death penalty in all cases, even the crime of raping a child. The court ruled that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment in the case of rape.
In Re Gault (1967)
Gerald Francis Gault was arrested in Gila County, Arizona for allegedly making an obscene phone call. His parents were not notified of his arrest. He had been on probation for prior infractions. He was not allowed an attorney and his parents were not able to take him home. His accuser never appeared in court. The judge said it was not necessary to have the accuser testify. Gault was committed to the State Industrial School until he reached the age of 21.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that his commitment to the State School was a violation of his 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. This includes notice of charges, notification of the parents, the right to an attorney, opportunity for confrontation and cross- examination at the hearings, and being informed of his rights.
Loving v Virginia (1967)
In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in the District of Columbia. Jeter was black and Loving was white. When they returned to their home state of Virginia, they were charged with violating the state's antimiscegenation (racially-mixed couple) law. They were sentenced to one year in jail unless they left the state and did not return for 25 years.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Virginia law a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Justice Warren wrote, "Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival...." and "...the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
Texas v Johnson (1989)
Gregory Lee "Joey" Johnson, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, burned a US flag while protesting President Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, TX. Johnson was tried and convicted of flag desecration and sentenced to one year in jail and a $2000 fine.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Johnson's arrest violated his First Amendment right to expression and political protest. The state law designating the flag as a symbol that cannot be desecrated was unconstitutional.
Terry v Ohio (1967)
On October 31, 1963, a Cleveland police officer observed John W. Terry and two other men acting suspicious on a street corner. He believe the men were "casing out" a store to rob. The police officer approached the men and frisked them. On two of the men, he found a gun. Terry was convicted on carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to three years in prison.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the search as reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Court found that the searches undertaken were limited in scope and designed to protect the officer's safety incident to the investigation.
Vernonia School District v Acton (1995)
In the 1980s, Vernonia School District 47J in Vernonia, OR had noticed a drug problem among the student body, in particular, student-athletes. Therefore, the school district implemented a random drug testing program. Students who wished to participate in school activities were required to submit to random drug testing. James Acton, a student, was denied participation in his school's football program when he and his parents refused to consent to the testing.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that the testing was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Because the schools act as "in loco parentis," (in place of the parents), it is their duty to ensure the safety of the students. Schools require students to undergo vaccinations, vision, hearing, and dermatological screenings, and other examinations upon entry. This drug testing is no less intrusive.
Regents of the University of California v Bakke (1978)
Allan Bakke, a white man, had twice applied and had been rejected for admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis. According to the School, only 100 were admitted each year and that 16 of them had to be "qualified" minorities. In a effort to fix unfair minority exclusions from the medical profession, the university implemented an affirmative action program. Bakke's qualifications (college GPA and test scores) exceeded those of any of the minority students admitted in the two years Bakke's applications were rejected. Bakke sued that his exclusion from admission was solely on the basis of race.
The decision of the court was mixed. The Court concluded that Bakke's 14th Amendment rights were violated and that he should be admitted to the School. However, the Court did say that the use of race in admissions is Constitutional, but that the school's criteria was too narrow.
Lemon v Kurtzman (1971)
This case was heard concurrently with two other cases. It involved laws in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In Pennsylvania, a law granted a financial support for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials for secular subjects to non-public schools. Rhode Island's law gave supplemental salaries to teachers in non-public schools. In both state, the schools in question were religious schools.
The Court ruled 8-0 that the laws were a violation of the 1st Amendment's Establishment Clause. They created a three-pronged test dealing with future cases. First, laws must a secular legislative purpose. Second, laws must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. Finally, law must not result in "excessive government entanglement" with religion. If any one of these prongs is violated, then any future laws which mix government actions with religious institutions would be considered unconstitutional.
Baker v Carr (1962)
Charles Baker, a resident of Memphis, sued Joe Carr, the Secretary of State of Tennessee. Baker argued that the Tennessee legislature had not redrawn its legislative districts in 60 years. The state Constitution required redistricting a every 10 years according to federal census results. The demographics of the state had changed more people had moved to the cities. Baker argued that since legislative line had not been redrawn, his vote was diluted in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The question before the Supreme Court was whether federal courts had jurisdiction to hear a constitutional challenge to a legislative apportionment.
The Court ruled 6-2 that Federal Courts do have jurisdiction in state legislative matters. The Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection issues which Baker and others raised in this case merited judicial evaluation.
Reynolds v Sims (1964)
Voters in Birmingham, AL challenged the apportionment laws of the State of Alabama. The Constitution of Alabama stated that there be at least one representative from each county in the legislature and that there be as many senatorial districts as there were Senators. The problem was that some rural counties were so small that the individuals in urban areas were underrepresented.
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Alabama Constitution provision on apportionment violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The ruling held that all state representative districts must be as close to equal in size as possible to maintain the "one man one vote" doctrine.
Ableman v Booth (1859)
In 1854, abolitionist Sherman Booth incited a mob in order to free an escaped slave in Wisconsin. The slave was in the custody of US Marshal Stephen V.R. Ableman. Booth was arrested for violating the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law. Booth requested a Writ of Habeas Corpus from a Wisconsin state judge. The writ was granted and the judge ordered Booth's release and ruled the federal law unconstitutional. This action by the Wisconsin judge was supported by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Booth remained free.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that state courts cannot overrule federal court decisions or federal law due to the Supremacy Clause when it comes to the interpretation of the Federal Constitution.
Missouri v Holland (1920)
In December 1916, the United States and Great Britain entered into a treaty to protect a number of migratory birds in the U.S. and Canada. Congress then passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 in order to enforce the treaty. US Game Warden Ray Holland threatened to arrest citizens of Missouri for violating the Act. Missouri sued in Federal Court on the grounds that the Constitution did not give the Federal Government the right to regulate migratory bird hunting.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that treaties are considered above state law and that Federal Government does have the power to enforce, through law, any treaty. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, Section 2) states that treaties, along with the Constitution, are the Supreme Law of the Land.
Cooper v Aaron (1958)
In the wake of the Landmark Supreme Court decision "Brown v Board of Education," the Governor or Arkansas, the state legislature and many Arkansas school districts openly defied the ruling. The State Legislature amended the State Constitution to prohibit desegregation. Violence had erupted in Little Rock during their desegregation program. The Little Rock School Board filed a suit in Federal Court to suspend their desegregation plans. It was appealed to the Supreme Court.
In a rare unanimously signed per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that no state or other political entity within the United States can nullify a decision of the Supreme Court. Its interpretation of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause was "binging" on all of the states.
United States v Miller (1939)
Jack Miller and Frank Layton were charged with violating the National Firearms Act (NFA) when they transported a sawed off double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun across state lines. Miller and Layton sued on the grounds that they had the constitutional right to keep and bear arms under the 2nd Amendment. The District court agreed with Miller and Layton and dismissed the case, but the Federal Government appealed to the Supreme Court.
In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law Constitutional and that Miller and Layton did not have a right to transport a sawed-off shotgun across state lines. The Court ruled that possessing such a instrument or weapon does not have a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, therefore, Second Amendment does not protect the possession of such an item.
District of Columbia v Heller (2008)
Dick Heller, a special police officer in the District of Columbia, filed an application to keep a handgun in his home for protection. DC denied the application because the was a ban on all handgun possession in the Federal District. Heller sued that his constitution rights under the 2nd Amendment were violated.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment does protect the right of a citizen to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and for the traditional and lawful purpose of self-defense within a home. This was the first 2nd Amendment case before the Supreme Court in in nearly 70 years. However, the ruling of this case concerned an issue within a federal enclave and not a state. Two years later, the question about whether Second Amendment rights apply to the states would be answered.
McDonald v Chicago (2010)
Otis McDonald, a 76-year old resident of Chicago, applied to register a handgun in the city. McDonald argued that his southside Chicago neighborhood was unsafe due to gangs and violent crime. Chicago denied his request and McDonald and other sued on the grounds that it violated his Second Amendment rights.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause allows for McDonald to own a handgun in the City of Chicago and that the city's ban on handguns was unconstitutional. This expanded the "DC v Heller" decision to apply to the states.
NAACP v Alabama (1958)
In order to keep the NAACP from further operations, the State of Alabama required that they turn over a list of all their members within the state as well as their addresses.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the requirements by Alabama were unconstitutional. Justice Harlan wrote in his decision, "immunity from state scrutiny of petitioner's membership lists is here so related to the right of petitioner's members to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in doing so as to come within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment"
United States v Nixon (1974)
In 1972, the Watergate scandal began and in 1973, a Special Prosecutor was appointed by Nixon to investigate. The Special Prosecutor obtained a subpoena to have President Nixon turn over audio tapes of conversations he had in the Oval Office. Nixon refused on the grounds that he had "executive privilege" over confidential communications within the executive branch in order to secure the national interest.
In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President must turn over the tapes. They rejected what Nixon believed to be "an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances." Nixon would resign as President 15 days later.
Clinton v Jones (1997)
In 1994, Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton and an Arkansas State Trooper. She claimed that she was crudely propositioned by then-Governor Clinton to be his mistress. President Clinton argued that he could not be sued on the grounds that he was entitled to absolute immunity from civil litigation arising out of events which transpired prior his presidency.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not grant a sitting President immunity from civil litigation. President Clinton could be called to civil court for charges of wrong-doing prior to his presidency.
Clinton v City of New York (1998)
This was the consolidation of two separate cases involving the Line-Item Veto. Congress passed the Line-Item Veto Act in 1996, which gave the president the power to nullify certain parts of appropriation bills. In other words, he could veto parts of a bill while allowing other parts to pass with his signature. The City of New York sued in federal court that it was harmed by a Line-Item Veto of the President on the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Line-Item Veto act violated the Presentment Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2 & 3). IT ruled that the President must either approve or reject a bill passed by Congress as a whole. The power to pick and choose which part to accept was ruled unconstitutional.
Bush v Gore (2000)
A day after the General Election for President, the State of Florida ordered a mandatory recount because the margin of victory for Governor Bush was less than 0.5%. One month after the election with the outcome still in doubt, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount of 9000 contested ballots in Miami-Dade County and all other counties manually recount ballots that did not indicate a vote for President.
The Supreme Court ruled on the election three separate times. This case was the final case to the Election of 2000. First, the Supreme Court ruled that method for recounting ballots ruled by the Florida Supreme Court violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Second, the Court ruled that not alternative method could be established within the time limits set by Florida Law.
Three concurring justices also ruled that the Florida Supreme Court had violated Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution.
The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)
These were the consolidation of three cases out of Louisiana concerning the new 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The State of Louisiana created a partial monopoly of slaughterhouse business to one company. Hundreds of butchers sued on the grounds that the state's creation of a monopoly violated the 13th Amendment (involuntary servitude) and the 14th Amendment (due process and equal protection of the law). In short, for the first time the Supreme Court was ruling on whether the 14th Amendment Privileges and Immunities Clause apply to the citizens of states.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment only applies to national citizenship and not states. Therefore, the rights of the butchers had not been violated.
Today, no legal scholar agrees with the Slaughterhouse decision and it is virtually ignored.
United States v The Amistad (1839)
A group of Africans, illegally kidnapped and sold into slavery, took over the ship that they were being transported on off the coast of Cuba. They demanded that the crew navigate the ship back to Africa, however, the crew tricked them and made the sail north. They ended up off the coast of Long Island were they were intercepted by an American Revenue Cutter. This became an international case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled that when the ship arrived in American waters, it was in the possession of the Africans. Furthermore, they never intended to become slaves. Therefore, not international treaty about property rights was violated and that the African were free to go. This was considered the biggest Supreme Court case concerning slavery until the Dred Scott Case nearly 20 years later.
Planned Parenthood of Missouri v Danford (1976)
Two Missouri doctors filed suit that the state law on abortions was unconstitutional. Missouri law restricted abortions of a viable fetus, required written consent by the pregnant woman before an abortion, mandated that medical records be kept at abortion clinics, required a husband's consent prior to an abortion and required parental of a minor before an abortion.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions in the Missouri law requiring a husband's consent and, for a minor, parental consent were unconstitutional. It was the ruling of the court that since the woman was carrying the fetus, she was the one to decide what to do with her body. This was the first major case concerning abortion after the landmark "Roe v Wade" case was handed down.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey (1992)
The Pennsylvania legislature amended their abortion law in the late 1980s to include the following: 1) women were to be informed of the risks of abortion before the procedure, 2) women must inform their spouse prior to an abortion, 3) parental consent for minors, 4) abortion providers must provide some documentation on their facilities, and 5) 24-hour waiting period before the procedure.
The ruling of the Supreme Court was mixed on each of the provisions, but the court did vote 5-4 on upholding the "Roe v Wade" decision. The ruling did strike down the spousal consent provision of the law, however it did uphold all of the other aspect of the law. For the first time, the justices imposed a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions.
Gonzales v Carhart (2007)
In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The law prohibits a form of late-term abortion that the Act calls "partial-birth abortion", referred to in medical literature as intact dilation and extraction. The new federal law was challenged all over the United States, being ruled unconstitutional by three district courts and three appeals circuit before going before the US Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was not unconstitutionally vague nor did it impose an undue burden on the right to an abortion. It also affirmed Congress' right to band certain types of abortion.
Cruzan v Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990)
In 1983, Nancy Cruzan was in a car accident in which she was left in a persistent vegetative state. She was kept alive with the use of a feeding tube. After four years, her parents felt that there was no hope of her recovery and they requested the feeding tube be removed. The state hospital refused to remove the tube without a court order.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of Missouri acted properly. The court said that there needed to be "clear and convincing evidence" that Cruzan wanted to end treatment. Missouri argued that there was not evidence and the Court agreed. As a result of this case, a wave of "living wills" swept the nation so that people would have legal evidence of their wishes in circumstances such as Cruzan.
Gonzales v Raich (2005)
In 1996, the State of California passed Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for medical use. This new law conflicted with the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) raided a home of Angel Raich in California and destroyed marijuana plants he was using for pain. Raich sued claiming that the CSA violated the Commerce Clause, Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the federal government did have the power to prohibit local cultivation and use of marijuana. According to the Court, even though the cultivation was within California, it was part of a "class of activities" with a substantial effect on interstate commerce and therefore could be regulated by Congress. This ruling was supported by the Wickard v Filburn case of 1942.
Gonzales v Oregon (2006)
In 1994, Oregon passed the Death With Dignity Act. The law permits physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to a patient agreed by two doctors to be within six months of dying from an incurable condition. The US Attorney General stated that any physician administering federally controlled drugs for that purpose would be in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law.
In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the intent of the federal law was to prevent doctors only from engaging in illicit drug dealing, not to define general standards of state medical practice.
Sony v Universal City Studios (1984)
In the 1970's, Sony developed Betamax video tape. This was one of several different brands of video recording available in the market. Universal Studios sued Sony for selling a product that could be used for copyright infringement.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that copying television shows for the purpose of time shifting does not constitution copyright infringement. It was considered fair use. Furthermore, the manufacturers of the video recording devices could not be held liable for infringement.
Reynolds v United States (1879)
In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. This act made it illegal to have a marriage with more than two partners. The act was directed at the Mormons of the United States. The Mormon leaders sued in Federal Court on the grounds that the law violated their First Amendment to freely practice their religion.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the law was Constitutional. Despite the religious beliefs of the Mormons, the Court held that the government could still punish criminal activity under the guise of religious practice.
Bob Jones University v United States (1983)
Bob Jones University in South Carolina, a religious private institution, had a school policy based on biblical interpretation that prohibited interracial marriage or dating. Violation of this policy would result in expulsion. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) moved to revoke their tax-exempt status on the grounds that they practiced racial discrimination. Bob Jones University sued on the grounds that their First Amendment rights to Freedom of Religion was being violated.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the IRS. The court ruled that the university did not meet the requirement of providing "beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life" to be supported by taxpayers with a special tax status and that it violated "fundamental national public policy." The university could hold their religious beliefs on racial separation, but the US government did not have to grant a special tax status for its practice.
Goss v Lopez (1975)
Ten students in Columbus, OH were given 10-day suspensions for destroying school property and interfering in the learning process. School officials ordered their suspension without holding any kind of hearings. Ohio law did not require the school to do so. The student sued in Federal Court on the grounds that their 14th Amendment right to due process was violated.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ohio law and the actions of the school district did violate the students' 14th Amendment right to due process. The Court found that students facing suspension should at a minimum be given notice and afforded some kind of hearing.
Hutchinson v Proxmire (1979)
William Proxmire was a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin. In 1975, Proxmire created what he called the "Golden Fleece Award of the Month." This award was given to a government agency which sponsored programs which Proxmire found wasteful. In 1976, he issued his "Golden Fleece" award to Ronald Hutchinson, a behavior scientist doing experiments at a mental hospital in Michigan. Proxmire spoke about the "wasteful" spending on the floor of the Senate, during meetings with his staff, and in a newsletter sent to thousands of his constituents. Hutchinson sued for libel despite the fact that Constitution protects members of Congress for speeches made in Congress.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Senator Proxmire's comments to his constituents through a newsletter were not protected by the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. Only speech on the floor of the Senate or in private meetings with his staff are protected under this constitutional clause.
New York Times v United States (1971)
Often called the "Pentagon Papers Case," this case was an attempt by the Nixon Administration to prevent the
New York Times
and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified information about the US involvement in Vietnam. Nixon argued that prior restraint was necessary to protect national security.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspapers in the suit. The Court stated that the government had not met its "heavy burden" of showing a justification for prior restraint. It ruled that the newspapers had a right to publish the information under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v Sawyer (1952)
While the United States was involved in the Korean War, the United Steelworkers of America Union threatened a general strike which would have disrupted the economy of the country as well as the war effort. Before the strike was to take place, President Harry S Truman issued an executive order directing Charles Sawyer, Secretary of Commerce, to seize control and operate most of the steel mills in the country.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President of the United States did not have the authority to issue such an executive order. The Court ruled that there was no law that authorized the President had such a power. Furthermore, the President's power as Commander-in-Chief did not give him the authority to do this kind of action. According to the majority decision, "the President's power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker."
Wisconsin v Yoder (1972)
Jonas Yoder and other members of two separate Amish groups were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until the age of 16. According to these Amish parents, their religious order barred their children from attending schools past the eighth grade.
In a 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the religious freedom of the individuals outweighed Wisconsin's interest in compelling school attendance. Parents have the right, under religious choice, to keep their children from attending public school.
Lee v Weisman (1992)
A Rhode Island middle school invited a rabbi to speak at the school's graduation ceremony. The family of Deborah Weisman, a student in the graduation ceremony, filed for an restraining order in District Court. The Court denied the request and the rabbi spoke at the ceremony. The Weisman family fought the decision all the way to the US Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the actions of the middle school were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The school's action, according to the Court, was an example of the state forcing religion upon students in a public school during a school function.
Ladue v Gilleo (1994)
After the beginning of the First Gulf War, Margaret Gilleo of Ladue, Missouri placed a yard sign in front of her house in opposition to the war. Twice, the yard sign was stolen. When Gilleo reported it to police, they informed her that yard signs violated a city ordinance. She sued and won in District Court. The City of Ladue repealed the city ordinance, but replaced it with one that did not allow yard signs or window signs. She placed her anti-war sign in the window and sued the city on the grounds that the ban violated her First Amendment rights.
In an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Ladue's ordinance was unconstitutional. The Court did state that Ladue had the power to limit yard signs in order to minimize visual clutter. However, the actions of the city to ban signs altogether violates the individual's right to speech from her home.
Zobrest v Catalina Foothills School District (1993)
James Zobrest had attended an Arizona public school through the eighth grade. He had been deaf since birth and the school district had provided a sign-language interpreter. When the Zobrest family decided to send their son to a private Catholic high school, the public school board withdrew their interpreter services. The Zobrest family sued on the grounds that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment required the school district to provide the interpreter. The school district argued that providing the service to a student attending a religious school violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Establishment Clause did not prohibit the public school district from providing services to the student who chose to attend a religious school. IDEA provided services for handicapped children regardless of the location of their education. The program did not support any type of religion and therefore was not in violation of the First Amendment.
Wallace v Jaffree (1985)
An Alabama law allows public school teacher t set aside one minute a the beginning of the school day of silence as a moment of "meditation or voluntary prayer." In 1982, the Jaffree family sued the Mobile County School Board for this practice on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found that the Alabama law did not have a clear secular purpose and violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
Stone v Graham (1980)
This claim was filed against James Graham, the superintendent of Kentucky Public Schools. According to state law, public school classrooms were required to post the Ten Commandments in each classroom. Sydell Stone and several other parents challenged the state law in Federal Court on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Kentucky law violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They found that placing the Ten Commandments in classrooms served no "secular legislative purpose" and was "plainly religious in nature."
Edwards v Aguillard (1987)
Louisiana passed a law called the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act" prohibited the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public schools without the teaching of creation science.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Louisiana law was unconstitutional. The law violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. It was decided by the Court that the teaching of creation in public schools had no secular purpose and therefore was in violation of the Constitution.
Westside School District v Mergens (1990)
A group of students at Westside High School wanted to form a Christian club with the same privileges as other high school clubs. Their request was denied by the high school on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause and that they did not have a faculty sponsor. Bridget Mergens, the student who spearheaded the Christian club formation, along with several other students, sued the school district on the grounds that they were violating the Equal Access Act. Their argument was that other non-curricular groups were allowed to form clubs and that the Equal Access Act requires schools who receive federal funding to provide for students seeking "religious, political, philosophical orother content" messages.
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Equal Access Act was constitutional and that the schools rejection of the club's formation to be unconstitutional. Because the subject matter of the club was not being taught in classes, its existence would not violate the Establishment Clause. However, the faculty advisor for the club would have to be an unpaid position.
Kelo v City of New London (2005)
New London, CT used its power of eminent domain to take private property to sell to private developers. The city's argument was that they had the power to take property with low property value in order to develop property with higher property value. In this way, the city would receive more tax revenue from the newly developed properties. The owners of the properties, lead by Susette Kelo, sued in Federal Court on the grounds that the city was misusing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment because the use of eminent domain was not for "public use."
In a controversial 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sided with New London. According to the court, the city's action was considered "public use" because it was following the economic development plan. Furthermore, the Court said taht the Fifth Amendment did not require "literal" public use, rather for "public purpose."
United States v Windsor (2013)
In 1996, a federal law was enacted called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This defined marriage, in federal law, as the union between one man and one woman. However, many states have allowed same-sex marriage since that time. In the case of Edith Windsor, the definition became a financial burden on her because of her marital status. Her same-sex marriage was recognized by the state of New York. However, when Windsor's spouse died, she was slapped with a #363,000 tax bill for being the recipient of her spouses estate. Windsor was married to a woman. Had she been married to a man, she would not have had such a tax bill. Windsor sued on the grounds that DOMA was unconstitutional and violated her Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under federal law.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA's definition of marriage was unconstitutional. The Court held that states have the authority to define marriage and that DOMA undermined the state's authority. It held that the federal definition violates the FIfth Amendment equal protect by creating a separate class.
Lawrence v Texas (2003)
In 1998, Robert Eubanks called police to report that a "black man" was brandishing a gun at the apartment of John Lawrence in Houston, TX. Eubanks' call was a bogus call because he was mad that his gay boyfriend was flirting with another man, Tyron Garner. When police arrived, they entered the unlocked apartment to find Lawrence and Garner engaged in sexual activity. There was no sign of any gun or gun related violence. The police then decided to charge Lawrence and Garner with a Class C misdemeanor for having sexual intercourse with another individual of the same-sex. This Texas law is called an anti-sodomy law.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Lawrence and Gardner. The Court stated that criminalizing the conduct of two consenting adults of the same sex violates the Equal Protection Clause as well as the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.
Boy Scouts of America v Dale (2000)
James Dale was an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). When he attended Rutgers University, he became the Co-President of the university gay/lesbian organization and was quoted in the university newspapers as being "gay." During Dale's time in college, he was also serving as an assistant Scout Master. When the BSA found out that Dale was homosexual, he was revoked of his adult membership in the organization. According to New Jersey law, the Boy Scouts could not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court stated that the New Jersey law violated the BSA's First Amendment right of expressive association. The Court ruled that the BSA has the right to decide membership because they are a private organization.
Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission (2010)
In 2008, Citizens United, a non-profit conservative group, produced a film called, "Hillary: The Movie." Their film expressed opinions about whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president. The movie was the conservative equivalent to the 2004 Michael Moore mover, "Fahrenheit 9/11." The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) ruled that the "Hillary" movie was a political advertisement and thus violated Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002. The purpose of the BCRA was to restrict "big money" contributions on electioneering. BCRA prevented corporations and labor unions from funding electioneering communications. Citizens United argued that the law violated their First Amendment right to speech because their organization produced the movie independent of any political campaign. Furthermore, it was well within their right to accept corporate donations for their private organization.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United. They ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. The Court ruled that political speech is "indispensable" to a democracy and that corporations have the right to that speech just like citizens.
Wickard v Filburn (1942)
In 1938, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This act limited the area that farmers could devote to wheat production in order to drive up the price of wheat during the Great Depression. Roscoe Filburn, a small Ohio farmer, was limited to growing 11.1 acres of wheat per year. Instead, Filburn grew nearly 12 more acres of wheat than he was allowed to grow. Filburn said that the additional wheat was for his own personal used to feed his livestock and poultry. His argument was that Congress had no right to tell him what he could grow if the crop would never be sent to market.
In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the right to regulate production and consumption under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The decision validated Congress' right to regulate all economic activity even though the product in question was not being sold.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v United States (1964)
One of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was that businesses could not discriminate on the basis of race. Despite this, the Heart of Atlanta Motel refused to rent rooms to black patrons. The owner of the motel argued that Congress had violated his Fifth Amendment rights to choose his own customers, which resulted in an unjust deprivation of his property without due process of law or just compensation. He even went so far as to argue that Congress had placed him in a position of involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress has the power to regulate commerce, even at the local level. Congress has the power to regular this trade if it has "a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people." The motel had no right to discriminate on the basis of race which customers they would service.
U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v Thornton (1995)
In 1992, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 73 to their state constitution that limited the number of terms for elected officials within the Arkansas state government. It also limited Arkansas citizens to three terms in the US House of Representatives and two terms in the US Senate. This was soon challenged in court as an unconstitutional restriction of Congressional service. Nowhere in the US Constitution are there any limitations on the number of terms a member can be re-elected.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Amendment 73 was unconstitutional. They ruled that a state does not have the power to change the qualifications to be a member of Congress. This can only be done through an amendment to the US Constitution.
INS v Chadha (1983)
Jagdish Rai Chadha was allowed in the United States as a foreign exchange student with a British passport even though he was born in Kenya. When his student visa expired, he was denied entry into either Britain or Kenya. According to a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had the power to suspend deportation of an alien residing in the US for at least seven years if the Attorney General believed that such deportation would "result in extreme hardship." According the the law, the Attorney General would have to give a report to Congress and that either house of Congress had the power to veto his determination of hardship status. The House of Representatives voted without debate or recorded vote to veto the Attorney General's suspension of deportation proceedings.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives power to veto the Attorney General's decision was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that Congress may not grant itself or one of its houses legislative veto power. This was a violation of the Presentment Clause of the Constitution.
Katz v United States (1967)
Federal agents suspected that Charles Katz was transmitting gambling information via telephone to clients in other states. The agents decided to attached an eavesdropping device to a public payphone that Katz was using. The FBI recorded Katz making these gambling transactions from the phone and arrested him. He was convicted based on the wiretapping information. Katz challenged the conviction on the grounds that the evidence obtained by the FBI was illegal and a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to protection from search and seizure without a warrant. The government argued that because it was a payphone, they needed no such warrant.
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court found that Katz was entitled to protection of his conversations under the Fourth Amendment. The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment "protects people, not places." This overturned Olmstead v United States (1928).
Charles River Bridge v Warren Bridge (1837)
In 1785, the State of Massachusetts incorporated the Charles River Bridge Company to build a bridge from Boston to nearby Cambridge. The company could then collect tolls in order to make a profit. In 1828, the state then established the Warren Bridge Company to build a bridge connecting the same two cities. This bridge was built just 300 yards from the Charles River Bridge. Furthermore, the Warren Bridge would be free. The Charles River Bridge Company filed a lawsuit claiming that the State of Massachusetts had defaulted on its contract with their company and that allowing a contract for a competing bridge violated Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution. This section prohibits any state from passing a law that impairs the obligation of contracts (Contracts Clause).
In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Warren Bridge. The Court observed that nowhere in the contract with Charles River Bridge had the State of Massachusetts given them exclusive right to build a bridge over the Charles River. The Court ruled that the need for economic development from a free bridge financed by the state outweighed the right of private property. This meant that the state did not violate the Contracts Clause of the Constitution.
Miller v California (1973)
In 1971, Marvin Miller, the owner of a mail-order business specializing in pornographic movies, magazines and books, mailed out brochures advertising movies and books that depicted sexual activity. When a restaurant owner in Newport Beach, CA opened one of these mailings, he called the police. Miller was arrested for violating a state statute prohibiting the distribution of obscene materials. Miller argued that his First Amendment rights were violated.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that obscene materials did not enjoy First Amendment protection. In this case, the Court created what is now known as the 'Miller Test.' This three-pronged test states that "the basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient (sexual) interest. . . (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." According to the Court, materials are considered obscene only if all three of these conditions are met.
FCC v Pacifica Foundation (1978)
In 1973, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received a complaint from a man in New York. His complaint was that his son overheard a George Carlin, a comedian, doing a routine over WBAI radio station called "Filthy Words." Because of the complaint, Pacifica Foundation, the owner of the station, was censured for the broadcast. Pacifica sued on the grounds that the regulation by the FCC violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC could limit radio broadcasts use of language or content. The Court ruled that the FCC could regulate broadcasts during certain hours in order to protect children.
Martin v Hunter's Lessee (1816)
Lord Fairfax, a large landowner in Virginia, fled to England during the Revolutionary War. When Fairfax died, he left the land to his nephew, British-citizen Denny Martin. Virginia, however, voided the ownership of the land and transferred it back to Virginia. The state granted some of this land to David Hunter. The problem was that Jay's Treaty with England stated that Lord Fairfax was entitled to the property. This distinction was upheld by the US Supreme Court, but Virginia Courts did not follow this ruling. Virginia courts ruled that the US Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in state court affairs.
In a 6-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the United States Supreme Court has the power to override state court decisions under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Virginia's claim that it had equal sovereignty with the United States was rejected. This was the first case in American history extending the power of the federal courts over the state courts.
South Dakota v Dole (1987)
In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This act required the Secretary of Transportation to withhold 5% of federal highway funds from any state that opts to keep their minimum drinking age under 21 years. South Dakota sued on the grounds that the act violates the 21st Amendment and it oversteps Congress' spending powers.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government. The Court held that the offer of federal benefits is not coercive and does not inappropriately invade the state's sovereignty. According to the Court, the purpose of the federal government to promote the "general welfare" made the its actions appropriate.
National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012)
In 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into Law. This law created what is known as "Obamacare," the largest set of changes to health care in American history. Soon after, 28 states filed lawsuits about the Constitutionality of the new law. Two cases made it to the Supreme Court and were consolidated into one case.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld "Obamacare" as constitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the the individual mandate (requirement by individuals to purchase a certain level of health care) was constitutional because Congress was following the Taxing & Spending Clause. The forcing of citizens to purchase health care, according to the Court, is a tax. The Court did rule that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of the Commerce Clause (regulating existing commercial activity). They ruled threatening states to to comply with an expansion of Medicaid or risk losing federal funding is unconstitutional.
Berghuis v. Thompkins (2010)
Van Chester Thompkins was interrogated by police in Michigan because he was a suspect in a fatal shooting in 2000. Police advised Thompkins of his Miranda rights, but he did not indicated that wanted to remain silent, talk to police, or call for an attorney. During the three-hour interrogation, he remained nearly silent to every question asked. Towards the end of the interrogation, police asked Thompkins if he believed in God, prayed to God, and whether he prayed for forgiveness for shooting a person. He answered "yes" to each of these questions. In court, Thompkins made a motion to suppress his statements on the ground that he had not waived his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent. The motion was denied and he was sentenced to life without parole for the murder.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Thompkins' silence during the interrogation meant that he did not invoke his right to remain silent and that he knowingly waived his right when he voluntarily made a statement to police.
Boumediene v. Bush (2008)
In 2002 Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Algerians were arrested by Bosnian police after a tip from a US intelligence officer suspected that they were involved in a bombing plot of a US embassy in Bosnia. The United States classified the men as enemy combatants in the war on terror and they were sent to tGuantanamo Bay Naval Base. Boumediene filed a writ of habeas corpus claiming that his duue process rights were being violated.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the right of habeas corpus review does apply to non-citizens being held at Guantanamo Bay.
of Landmark Cases are important judicial decisions that are frequently regarded as having settled or determined the law upon all points involved in such controversies and thereby serves as a guide for subsequent decisions.
The following cases do not represent all Landmark Cases in American History. This collection is continually growing and always under construction.
Cases that are
are very important because they have been sited by the
State of Missouri
as significant cases for high school students to recognize. The first five cases in this presentation have been flagged.
Supreme Court Cases
You Should Know
McCulloch v Maryland (1819)
In protest to the creation of the Bank of the United States, the State of Maryland imposed a tax on its Baltimore branch. The teller refused to pay the tax and the case went to federal court.
There were two questions before the court. First, did the United States have the power to create a bank and, second, did the state have the power to tax a federal entity?
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rule that the national government had implied powers and could create a national bank. In addition, the court ruled that Maryland did not have the power to tax the national government because a state cannot interfere with the function of the national government.
This landmark case established that the national government has implied powers through the Necessary and Proper Clause and that the national government is supreme over the states.
Marbury v Madison (1803)
William Marbury was appointed a judge in the DC Federal Court by President John Adams. However, his commission was not delivered in time because the new President Thomas Jefferson refused to give it to him. Marbury sued directly to the Supreme Court arguing that the actions of the Jefferson administration were illegal.
The Supreme Court decision, written by John Marshall, did agree that the actions of the Jefferson Administration were illegal. However, the court did not order the Secretary of State, James Madison, to turn over the commission. This was because the court ruled that the case could not be heard by the Supreme Court and that law allowing the suit (Judiciary Act of 1789) was unconstitutional. The court argued that it only had appellate jurisdiction in such cases and not original jurisdiction as the new law had prescribed.
This case established that the federal courts have the power of Judicial Review. Many legal scholars consider this case to the the most important landmark case in US history.
New York Times Co. v Sullivan (1963)
On March 29, 1960, the
New York Times
printed a full-page advertisement titled "Heed Their Rising Voices." The add alleged that the recent arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, AL was part of a campaign to destroy his efforts to encourage blacks to vote and to harken in integration. The ad also solicited funds for his legal defense. The advertisement was slightly inaccurate on the number of times that Dr. King was arrested. The Public Safety Commission of Montgomery, L.B. Sullivan, sued for libel as allowed under Alabama Law even though his name was not mentioned in the advertisement.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld the
New York Times'
right to publish its statements, even false ones, under the 1st Amendment, as long as the statement were not made with actual malice. This means that the
did not knowingly publish false statements. This is a major case for Freedom of the Press.
United States v Lopez (1995)
Alfonzo Lopez was a 12th grade student at a high school in San Antonio, TX. He was caught carrying a concealed weapon into the school while delivering it to another student. Lopez was charged with violating the "Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990." Lopez moved to have the case dismissed because he claimed the federal law violated the constitution. His argument was that Congress had no control over public schools. The trial court denied his motion and he was found guilty and sentenced. Lopez appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a school zone was not an economic activity and the law was in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The federal government could not prove that schools were an economic activity.
Printz v United States (1997)
Two county sheriffs from Montana and Arizona filed lawsuits against the United States government. In question was the application of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill). The law required local chief law enforcement officers (CLEOs) to perform background checks on handgun purchases. Both CLEOs argued that it was beyond the power of Congress to compel local law enforcement to enforce federal law. Both cases were combined and were presented to the Supreme Court
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled federal law cannot force local law enforcement officials to carry out federal law. The court ruled that this law was a misapplication of the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Van Orden v Perry (2005)
In 1961, a 6'3" monument with the Ten Commandments was erected on the state capitol build grounds in Austin, TX. It is among nearly 40 monuments on the grounds of the capitol depicting "Texan identity.". In 2003, attorney Thomas Van Orden filed a lawsuit to remove the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause. The case went before the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the monument was not in violation of the Establishment Clause. The monument was deemed a part of the state's traditions and history. The religious message did not, however, violate the separation between church and state. The monument was among many other secular monuments with the same purpose of promoting Texas and therefore was not considered a solely religious message.
MGM Studios v Grokster (2005)
Grokster was among many companies that distribute free software that allows computer users to share electronic files in peer-to-peer networks. Users could place copyrighted files into a share-file for others to view and copy. Grokster profited from advertising revenue. Movie studios and record companies charged that this software violates the Copyright Act. Grokster claimed that they were not liable for copyright violations that was a result of their software, rather the computer users themselves were the only one's liable.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Grokster, and other companies that distribute this type of software, are liable for copyright infringement. Because the software was so widely used to break copyright law, the companies that developed the software should be considered liable for the use of the programs.
Buckley v Valeo (1976)
After the Watergate Scandal, Congress passed campaign finance laws that limited how much money an individual can give to a campaign and limited how much a campaign can spend. A lawsuit was brought up by New York Senator James Buckley with others charging that the limitations are unconstitutional under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech and Association.
The Supreme Court had a mixed ruling. First, it said that placing sending limits on a campaign is a violation of the First Amendment. However, the court did rule that limits on how much money can be given by individuals is constitutional. This ruling helped pave the way for campaign finance rules for the next three decades.
Plessy v Ferguson (1896)
Homer Plessy purposely took a seat on a "white" train car in New Orleans despite a Louisiana law mandating racial segregation. Plessy was 7/8's white yet was considered, by law, to be black.
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the state has the constitutional right to separate the races as long as both are afforded equal facilities. Therefore, despite the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the Supreme Court created, through their decision, the practice of "Separate but Equal."
Cases Concerning Abortion or Contraception
Cases Concerning the Establishment Clause
Cases Concerning the First Amendment
Cases Concerning Federalism
Cases Concerning the Second Amendment
Cases Concerning the Fourth Amendment
Cases Concerning the Eighth Amendment
Cases Concerning the Trade & Copyrights
Cases Concerning the 5th & 6th Amendments
and Due Process
Other Landmark Supreme Court Cases
Chisholm v Georgia (1793)
In 1792, Alexander Chisholm, who was the executor of the estate of Robert Farquhar, tried to sue the state of Georgia in the United States Supreme Court. Chisholm argued that Georgia owed him money for goods Farquhar had supplied the state during the Revolutionary War. Georgia refused to even appear in court because they claimed that they had "sovereign immunity" and could not be sued.
In an 4-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Chisholm could sue the state of Georgia and that no where in the Constitution did any state have soveriegn immunity. Because of this case, the Eleventh Amendment was quickly passed by 1795 to protect the states.
This case is considered the first significant case ever before the Supreme Court. It is also the first decision to be overridden by an Amendment to the Constitution.
United States v Leon (1984)
In 1981, police received a tip in Burbank, CA that four people, including Alberto Leon, were drug dealers. Based on the tip, the police began surveillance of their homes. Based on the evidence gather from the surveillance and information from a second informant, the police sought a search warrant from a judge. During the searches, police found large quantities of illegal drugs. However, it was determined that the search warrant issued by the judge was in error because the police lacked probable cause. Regardless, the evidence gather in the search was admissible because the police performed the search properly with the invalid warrant. This means that the police acted in good faith. Leon argued that all evidence should be inadmissible because of the Exclusionary Rule from the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court found the evidence seized on the basis of a improper warrant could be used in trial. This exception to the Exclusionary Rule is now called the "Good Faith Exception."
Sheppard v Maxwell (1966)
In 1954, osteopathic physician Dr. Samuel Sheppard was charged with 2nd degree murder of his pregnant wife by bludgeoning her to death in Bay Village, OH. He was tried and found guilty in court. The case became a media sensation and Sheppard argued that he did not receive a fair trial because the jury became prejudicial. He argued his case to the Supreme Court.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Sheppard did not receive a fair trial and violated the Sixth Amendment. The court ruled that the Freedom of the Press does not outweigh the establishment of a fair and impartial jury. The court ruled that the court proceedings should have been postponed or moved to a different venue.
Sheppard was retried in 1966 and found innocent. The event was made into a television movie staring George Peppard as Dr. Sheppard.
Gitlow v New York (1925)
Benjamin Gitlow, a New York State Assemblyman and a member of the Socialist Party, was arrested in 1919 and charged with "criminal anarchy" for publishing a document called let "Left-Wing Manifesto." The document called for socialism in American through strikes and class action of any form. He was tried and convicted under New York law. However, Gitlow sued claiming that his First Amendment Free Speech rights were being violated. Gitlow was represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It was the first case the ACLU ever took to the Supreme Court.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Gitlow. The Court ruled that a state may forbid speech and publication that would place public security in jeopardy. More importantly, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does apply to the states and not just to the Federal Government. The Court stated that no state can deny free speech and press liberties under the 14th Amendment. It was the first time that the Court ruled the First Amendment applies to the states.
Grutter v Bollinger (2003)
In 1997, Barbara Grutter applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Despite her very high GPA and LSAT scores, she was denied admission. The university said that they also took into account her race when deciding admission. Because Grutter was white, the university denied her admission because it said it had a "compelling interest in achieving diversity among its student body." Grutter sued stating that the Law School's use of racial preferences in admissions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In an 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School's narrowly tailored use of race in admission decisions. The Court stated that the Law School did not solely take race into consideration and that its actions were in accordance with the law and not a violation of the 14th Amendment.
Wesberry v Sanders (1964)
James P. Wesberry, Jr. filed a lawsuit against the Governor Carl E. Sanders of Georgia protesting the state's apportionment scheme in congressional districting. Wesberry's Fifth Congressional District had a population over twice the amount of some of the other districts in the state. Wesberry claimed this system diluted his right to vote compared to other Georgia residents and violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
In an 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia's apportionment scheme discriminated against voters in the Fifth Congressional District. This meant that the constituents of this district were vastly underrepresented. Because of this case, all Congressional districts within each state must be approximately equal in population.
Cases Concerning Equal Protection
United States v Virginia (1996)
In the 1990s, the Virginia Military Institute was the last all-male public university in the country. A lawsuit was filed that VMIs admissions standards violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. In response to the lawsuit, Virginia proposed creating an all-women's military institute. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals accepted this idea that there could be two comparable institutions. The United States appealed to the Supreme Court.
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled VMIs admission's policy was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The court stated that a separate "but equal" women's institute would not be equal and the Court forced VMI to change its policy.
Ex Parte Milligan (1866)
Lambdin P. Milligan and four others were accused of planning to steal Union weapons and invade Union prisoner-of-war camps in Indiana and use the liberated soldiers to take over Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. When the plan leaked, they were charged, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged by a military court in 1864. Milligan sought release through habeas corpus from a federal court.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a trial of civilians by a military court was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment when civilian courts were still operating.
Nixon v Fitzgerald (1982)
In 1968, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a civilian analyst with the US Air Force, testified before a congressional committee about inefficiencies and cost overruns in the production of the C-5A transport plane. Roughly one year later he was fired, an action for which President Nixon took responsibility. Fitzgerald then sued Nixon for damages. President Nixon claimed that he had immunity from civil suits for decisions he made as President.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the President "is entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts." Fitzgerald could not sue the President in civil court for his decisions as President.
Walz v Tax Commission (1970)
Frederick Walz, the owner of real estate in Richmond County, New York, brought suit against the New York City Tax Commission. His suit claimed that the property tax exemptions given to churches forced him, as a taxpayer, to indirectly contribute to churches. This was argued to be a violation of the Establishment Clause.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that tax exemptions to churches and religious organizations is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Court held that tax exemptions neither supported or inhibited religious organizations.
Sherbert v Verner (1963)
Adell Sherbert was a worker at a textile mill. Her employer switched from a five-day to a six-day work week, requiring Sherbert to work on Saturday. Sherbert belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which forbade working on Saturdays. Because of her refusal, the mill fired Sherbert. She filed a claim with the South Carolina Employment Security Commission for unemployment compensation and she was denied. She sued claiming that the state's denial violated her First and Fourteen Amendment right to Free Exercise of Religion and Equal Protection, respectively. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the state's actions and lower court decisions. The Court said that the denial of her benefits violated the free exercise of her religion. This created what is today known as the Sherbert Test.
Hudson v McMillian (1992)
Keith Hudson was an inmate at a Louisiana state prison. He claimed he was beaten by two prison guards, Marvin Woods and Jack McMillian. Hudson sued the guards in Federal District Court, arguing that they had violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The District Court ruled in favor of Hudson, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The Court of Appeals said that the inmate must demonstrate "significant injury" when he claims that his Eighth Amendment rights have been violated by the use of excessive force. The case went to the Supreme Court.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that punishment inflicted that was malicious and sadistic, not necessarily inflicting a significant injury, was considered cruel and unusual punishment. In this case, the guard's actions were a violation of Hudson's Eighth Amendment protections.
United States v Jones (2012)
In 2004, Antoine Jones and Lawrence Maynard were being investigated for narcotics violations. The FBI and the District of Columbia Police Department attached a GPS tracking device on Jones' vehicle without a warrant. They track the movements of his vehicle for four weeks. He was arrested in late 2005 and charged with cocaine charges. In 2008, Jones was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Jones appealed to have the GPS date suppressed. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The justices had differing opinions as to why it was unconstitutional. This case is the first to involve GPS tracking by law enforcement.
Shelby County v Holder (2013)
One of the provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was to prohibit certain places from enacting changes to their election laws and procedures without official authorization. These places were targeted if they had some type of voting test in place in 1964 and less than 50% turnout in the 1964 presidential election. Shelby County, Alabama was one of those places targeted by the Civil Rights Act of 1965. In 2011, Shelby County sued the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, in federal court claiming that the provision in the law was unconstitutional. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the specific sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 as unconstitutional. Their reasoning was that nearly 50 years have passed and the current burdens on the county election officials are no longer needed in the areas in question because conditions have vastly changed in such a long span of time. The sections of the Act violate the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.
Arizona v United States (2012)
In 2010, Arizona enacted a new law titled, "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act." The act made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law. The law made it a crime to seek work or work without authorization in the state of Arizona. The law allows law enforcement within the state to verify the citizenship or alien status of people arrested, stopped or detained. Finally, the law had provisions authorizing warrantless arrests of illegal aliens. Shortly after the enactment of the law, the United States Federal Government sued Arizona in Federal Court.
In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down three of the four provisions of the law as unconstitutional. The decision struck down the section of the law requiring aliens to carry documentation in Arizona, making it a crime to work or seek work in Arizona, and authorization of warrantless arrests of illegal aliens. The decision did, however, uphold the state's right to verify the status of people who are arrested or detained by law enforcement under narrow circumstances. The court's decision upheld the Federal Governments power to enforce naturalization laws in the United States.
Weeks v United States (1913)
At Union Station in Kansas City, MO in December of 1911, Fremont Weeks was arrested and charged with transporting lottery tickets through the mail, a federal crime. Police officers entered Mr. Weeks' house without a warrant and took possession of items incriminating Weeks. They turned the information over to a federal marshal. Then, the police officers returned to the house, with the US marshal, and took possession of more items, again without a warrant. Weeks petitioned the court to have the evidence excluded because the officers entered his home without a warrant.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that the seizure of items from Weeks' home was a violation of his protections under the Fourth Amendment. According to the Court, none of the items from the home could be used as evident against him because it was obtained without a warrant. It was the first time that the "exclusionary rule" had been defined by the high court, although it only applied to a federal search. It would not be until Mapp v Ohio that the exclusionary rule would be in place at the state level.
Rostker v Goldberg (1981)
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter reactivated the draft registration process. President Carter recommended that the registration be extended to all women. Congress did not grant his full request and kept the registration restricted to men only. Several men sued on the grounds that their Fifth Amendment rights to Due Process were being violated. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not violate the Due Process Clause by excluding women from the registration. This was based on the combat restrictions that were already in place for women by Congress. Because women were not needed in combat, there would be no need for women to register.
Illinois v Wardlow (2000)
Officers in Chicago were patrolling an area known for narcotics traffic. Suddenly, they spooted Sam Wardlow fleeing the area near the officers while he was holding a bag. Police apprehended Wardlow and did a routine pat-down for a weapon. They found a gun on Wardlow and arrested him. According to Wardlow, he was doing nothing illegal and motioned to have the gun discovery suppressed because the police had no cause to fisk him. The police argued that he ran from the police when Wardlaw spotted them and that cause enough to conduct a protective frisk. The case when to the Supreme Court.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found that the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they stopped Wardlow because the officer was justified in suspecting that he was involved in criminal activity. According to the Court, "nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion" to justify a stop.
United States v American Library Association (2003)
In 2000, Congress passed the "Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), requiring public libraries to install internet filtering software on their computers in order to qualify for federal funding. The American Library Association, along with many other individuals and groups, challenged the law on the ground that required them to restrict the First Amendment rights of their patrons. The case was taken to the Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress does have the authority to required that public libraries censor internet content in order to receive federal funding. The Court stated that CIPA does not violate the library patrons' First Amendment rights and Congress is well within it authority to create such a funding requirement.
Snyder v Phelps (2011)
In 2006, the family of deceased Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder filed a lawsuit against the members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WPC) of Topeka, KS. The WPC picked the funeral of Snyder in Westminster, MD, displaying signs that read "Fag Troops" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." The family of Snyder accused the WPC of defamation, invasion of privacy and emotional distress. The District Court of Maryland awarded the Snyder family $5 million in damages, but the WPC had the decision reversed in the Court of Appeals and the grounds the award violated the First Amendment protections of religious expression. The case ended up in the Supreme Court.
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the District Court's decision to award damages to the Snyder family violated the WPC's First Amendment rights. The Court held that speech on a public sidewalk about a public issues is not liable for a tort of emotional distress and defamation, even if the speech is generally regarded as profoundly horrific.
Riley v California (2014)
In 2009, David Leon Riley was a gang member in San Diego, CA. He and his fellow gang members opened fire on a rival gang member while driving past. Two weeks later, police pulled Riley over because he was driving on expired tags. Riley's car was impounded and the police discovered guns hidden in the vehicle. Police searched Riley and found his cell phone in his pocket. Detectives analyzed the cell phone and discovered pictures of Riley making gang signs as well as other gang-related information. Using the evidence from the