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Landmark Supreme Court Cases

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1 Landmark Supreme Court Cases

2 Abington School District v. Schempp
Also known as School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, 1963 Do opening exercises including scripture reading and recitation of the Lord’s prayer violate the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses? (1st amendment) Yes, such exercises are a violation of the establishment clause (8-1) “if the purpose and effect of a law is the advancement or inhibition of religion, it exceeds the scope of legislative power.”

3 Baker v. Carr (1962) Do imbalances among congressional districts deny residents equal protection of the laws? (14th amendment) Do federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving malapportionment? The court ruled yes on both questions (6-2) This case helps lead to the Wesberry case that established the “one person, one vote” principle in redistricting cases One of 3 key redistricting cases. Can you name the other two?

4 Bethel School District #403 v. Fraser (1986)
Do schools have the right to restrict students’ speech content? Is sexually suggestive speech protected by the 1st amendment? Yes to the first issue, no to the second (7-2) Students can be punished for speech in school that would be protected in other settings. the Court has upheld “time, place and manner” restrictions in other cases as long as they are “content neutral”

5 Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka, Kansas (1954)
Overturned the Plessy decision What does this case say about stare decisis? Is this case an example of judicial activism? “separate but equal is inherently unequal” because the very fact that separate schools exist marks one race as inferior The court’s opinion was unanimous (9-0)

6 Buckley v. Valeo (1976) Are campaign contributions and expenditures protected by the 1st amendment as political speech? Is the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 constitutional? The Court ruled that it is not a violation of free speech rights to limit the amount individuals or groups may contribute to campaigns, but that it is a violation to limit the amount of money candidates or groups may spend. (no majority vote)

7 Bush v. Gore (2000) Does the manual recount of votes cast in Florida violate the equal protection clause? Yes, because the standards for judging a voter’s intent in the recount weren’t uniform Historical implication of this case: 1st time the Court intervened in a presidential election; critics claim this interference ensured Bush’s election (7-2 vote on the equal protection question, 5-4 on stopping the recounts)

8 Clinton v. City of New York (1998)
Is the Line Item Veto Act of 1997 constitutional? Do you remember what a line item veto is? Why would Congress want to give the executive this power? No, the Act is not constitutional because it violates the doctrine of separation of powers. (6-3)

9 Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
Are slaves citizens? Is the Missouri Compromise constitutional? The Court answered no to both questions, which contributed to the political tensions leading up to the Civil War. (7-2) What amendment would later be passed that would ensure the citizenship of former slaves and free people of color? Is this case an example of judicial activism or judicial restraint?

10 Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health (1990)
Does someone have a constitutionally protected right to die under the 9th amendment? This is the original “right to die” case. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision to reject Nancy Cruzan’s parents’ request that they be allowed to take their daughter off life support (a feeding tube) due to a lack of “clear and convincing evidence” that Nancy’s parents would be honoring their daughter’s wishes. This case drew attention to the need for living wills, especially for terminally ill patients. How does this case compare with the Terri Schiavo case from 2005?

11 Edwards v. Aguillard ( 1987) Are state laws requiring the teaching of “creation science” a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment clause? Yes, because such laws violate the Lemon test is there a clearly secular purpose? Does the statute neither advance nor inhibit religion? Do such laws create excessive entanglement of government with religion? (7-2) What recent cases have come before the court on this issue?

12 Engel v. Vitale (1962) Does the use of a nonsectarian (nondenominational) prayer violate the Establishment clause? Yes (6-1) because it creates “government compelled” prayer, even if students choose not to participate. “When the power, prestige, and financial support of government is placed behind a particular religious belief, the indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing, officially-approved religion is plain.”

13 Escobedo v. Illinois (1964) Escobedo was accused of murdering his brother-in-law. During questioning, he was not allowed to consult with his attorney, who was at the police station at the time. Escobedo made some incriminating statements during questioning, but had not been notified of his right to remain silent. Were Escobedo’s 6th amendment rights to counsel violated? Yes (5-4) (general questioning versus an accusatory investigative process) Upholds the ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

14 Furman v. Georgia (1972) Is the death penalty “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore a violation of the 8th amendment? Is the imposition of the death penalty by juries done in a fair manner? Yes; No, which makes it a “cruel and unusual punishment” because juries aren’t given specific guidelines about imposing the death penalty (5-4) This case was overturned by . . .

15 Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) What happens when state laws regarding commerce conflict? Can a state grant an exclusive right to navigate its waters? Who has the final authority to regulate interstate commerce? Upheld the constitutionality of the Commerce Clause in Article I section 8 (6-0) Why? Sometimes called the “steamboat case”

16 Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) Gideon had been convicted of a misdemeanor. He couldn’t afford a lawyer and Florida state law didn’t provide for counsel for non-capital crimes. Was Gideon’s 6th amendment right to counsel violated? Under what circumstances must an accused person be provided with legal counsel? The due process clause of the 14th amendment makes it necessary for the states to “recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” (9-0) This case extends the right to counsel under the 6th amendment to both capital and non-capital cases.

17 Gitlow v. New York (1925) Does the freedom of speech guaranteed in the 1st amendment apply to the states? (Can states make laws that violate it?) This case marks the beginning of the incorporation process of the 1st amendment. Does the 1st amendment protect speech that would encourage the overthrow of the U.S. government? Just how far does free speech protection go? The Court ruled that the 1st amendment protection does apply to the states, but that in this case, the state had a legitimate interest in protecting public safety that trumped an individual’s right to free speech, so Gitlow’s conviction was upheld. (7-2) Has the court ruled consistently on this issue? Under what circumstances is the Court less tolerant of free speech? For a current example, consider: Justice Talking

18 Gregg v. Georgia (1976) This case was a test of the revised laws many states had passed after the Furman decision in an attempt to overcome the problems the Court had raised with regard to the arbitrary application of capital punishment. This case upheld that Georgia’s two phase trial process (phase one determines guilt or acquittal, second phase determines sentencing) overcame the problems the Court had found in the Furman decision. Overturned the Furman decision and found that the death penalty was “not necessarily” cruel and unusual (7-2)

19 Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
Is it legal for states to pass laws that would punish “any person who uses any drug, medical article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception?” The law also allowed for punishment of anyone who assisted another in committing an offense of this law, such as a doctor who wrote a prescription for contraceptives. This case established that certain decisions (such as family planning) exist within a “zone of privacy” protected by provisions of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 14th amendments. (7-2) Griswold is considered the cornerstone of the later Roe v. Wade case.

20 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
To what extent are school newspapers forums for public expression? Are student publications free from censorship by school authorities? “The public schools do not possess all of the attributes of streets, parks, and other traditional public forums” meaning that “school officials retain ultimate control. . .over a school-sponsored newspaper.” (5-3) Can you explain the differences in the Court’s rulings in this case versus its rulings in the Tinker and Bethel cases?

21 Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964)
Do federal civil rights laws violate a private property owner’s rights to due process under the 14th amendment? Does Congress have the power to enact civil rights legislation under the Commerce Clause? No and Yes. ((9-0) “The action of the Congress in the adoption of the act [Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] as applied here to a motel which concededly serves interstate travelers is within the power granted it by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution as interpreted by this court for 140 years.”

22 INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) v. Chadha (1983)
Is a one-house congressional veto constitutional? Does Chadha get to stay in the country? No and Yes In this case, the Court declared the legislative veto unconstitutional because Article I requires that “every order, resolution, or vote to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary. . . shall be presented to the President of the United States.” Do you remember what a legislative veto is? See p in Wilson.

23 Korematsu v. United States (1944)
Following the invasion of Pearl Harbor, President Truman issued an executive order to clear all persons of Japanese descent from California and relocate them to internment camps. (Executive Order 34) Was this executive order a proper exercise of the war power even though it uses racial classifications, which are subject to the highest judicial scrutiny? In a 6-3 vote, the Court said yes. Although this case raises all sorts of civil rights issues, the court only agreed to take up the question of the President’s use of war powers rather than imposing martial law. Under President Regan, Congress passed legislation to provide financial compensation to the living survivors of the exclusion and relocation orders.

24 Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) Established the 3-part “Lemon” test used to determine if a statute, law or action violates the Establishment clause of the 1st amendment. The three parts are: is there a clearly secular purpose for the government action? Does the statute neither advance nor inhibit religion? Do such laws create excessive entanglement of government with religion? If the answer to any of the above is “yes”, then the Establishment clause has been violated. In this case, the states of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were giving state money to parochial schools to use to pay for books, teacher salaries, etc. for academic subjects only. The Court found that while these actions did have purely secular functions (using taxpayer money to help educate the state’s children), it created excessive entanglements between religion and government. For example, would the science teachers be forced to teach evolution if it violated the schools’ doctrinal positions? (7-1 vote)

25 Marbury v. Madison (1803) Is the Judiciary Act of 1789 authorizing the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus constitutional? Does Marbury get his job? Why is this arguably the most important Supreme Court case ever? What’s the historical significance of the Court’s decision in this case? The answer to this has two parts (5-0) Consider Justice Marshall’s words: “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is…” and “Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the constitution , if that constitution forms no rule for his government? If it is closed upon him, and cannot be inspected by him?”

26 McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Does Congress have the power to create a bank? Can the state of Maryland tax such a bank? Yes to the first, no to the second. This case upholds the idea that Congress has “implied powers” based on the “necessary and proper” clause found in Article I section 8

27 Miranda v. Arizona (1966) Are confessions obtained during a suspect’s interrogation as part of an investigation admissible as evidence if the suspect has not been notified of his/her right to remain silent (5th amendment) or right to have counsel present (6th amendment)? One of the Warren court’s most controversial decisions. Why would this case be considered judicial activism? In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled to overturn Miranda’s conviction. “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inclupatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”

28 Near v. Minnesota (1931) A newspaper called The Saturday Press published by Mr. Near and others published a series of articles that accused public officials with “gross neglect of duty or misconduct in office”. The newspaper was shut down under a state statute aimed at “malicious, scandalous and defamatory periodicals” which found the paper to be a “public nuisance” Is this an infringement of the liberty of the press under the 14th amendment? The court ruled yes in a 5-4 vote. This case upheld the idea that prior restraint amounts to censorship of the very kind the Framers intended the 1st amendment to prevent. So, even though some newspapers might exploit a scandal, state laws can’t be used to prevent publication.

29 New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) Should school officials have to meet the same standards of reasonableness for conducting searches as law enforcement officials do when dealing with the public? The issue here is the conflict between the school’s need to provide safety and order and a student’s reasonable expectation of privacy under the 14th amendment The Court ruled 5-3 that schools have to meet a lesser standard that searches be “reasonable” rather than the “probable cause” standard.

30 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)
This is a famous libel case originating in Montgomery, Alabama To what extent does the 1st amendment protect people who criticize public officials? Several minor details in the ad which ran in the Times were incorrect—did this constitute libel? Can public officials sue for libel if people criticize their actions as public officials? In a unanimous vote, the court ruled that “erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate” and that the Alabama law that allowed the law suit would create condition in which “critics of official conduct may be deterred from voicing their criticisms, even though it is believed to be true and even though it is in fact true, because of doubt whether it can be proved in court or fear of the expense of having to do so.” Remember the Alien and Sedition Acts? The Court did in writing the opinion in this case!

31 Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Did the Louisiana law allowing for “separate but equal” rail cars for whites and blacks violate the 13th and 14th amendments? The court ruled no to both questions in a 7-1 vote. Justice Harlan dissented, writing that “our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” This case upheld the “separate but equal” standard that proliferated in the South and other places across the country under “Jim Crow” laws after the Civil War. Which case overturned this decision?

32 Powell v. Alabama (1932) One of the famous “Scottsboro boys” cases.
Were the defendants denied the right to counsel and then tried in a hostile environment too quickly to develop an adequate defense? This case is one in a series through which the court slowly developed the “fundamentals of fairness” to which an accused person (especially the poor and minorities) is entitled under the Constitution. (7-2) What other cases help develop this doctrine?

33 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)
Are quota systems in college admissions unlawful? Is it acceptable to consider race as a factor in admissions criteria? This case was the first major legal challenge to affirmative action policies. The Court ruled (5-4) that the UC-Davis policy amounted to a quota and was a violation of the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause, but upheld that race may be considered as part of admissions criteria. This was an extremely controversial ruling and produced 7 separate opinions. Review affirmative action in Glencoe p & Wilson p Do you think this case would be decided the same way today?

34 Reynolds v. Sims (1964) Another redistricting case originating in Birmingham, Alabama when residents of Jefferson County challenged the apportionment of the Alabama state legislature. Was the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment violated? The Court ruled (8-1) that apportionment must be based primarily on population.

35 Roe v. Wade (1973) This case is NOT just about abortion: Does the 14th amendment use of the word “person” include the unborn? Does the right of privacy found in the Constitution include a woman’s right to an abortion? In a 7-2 decision, the court found that the term “person” applies only after birth: “We need not decide the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” This case is often cited as the exemplar of judicial activism and is considered a “litmus test” for judicial nominees.

36 Santa Fe School District v. Doe (2002)
Do student-led, student-initiated, invocations broadcast at public school football games violate the establishment clause of the 1st amendment as applied to the states by the 14th amendment? In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that they are a violation of the establishment clause. You be the judge: Does the school’s policy hold up under the Lemon test? The court held that the policy subjected those who attended the games to what some may find a “personally offensive religious ritual”

37 Schenck v. United States (1919)
What does this case say about civil rights and liberties during times of war? In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Schenck’s actions, by encouraging men to evade the draft constituted a “clear and present danger” to national security. Established the “clear and present danger” test. How does this case compare to other cases when safety, national security, the public good, etc. have been pitted against the rights of the individual?

38 Texas v. Johnson (1989) Was Johnson’s action of burning the flag during a protest at the 1984 Republican National Convention a form of constitutionally protected freedom of speech/expression? What is symbolic speech? What kinds of speech or actions did the Framers intend to protect when they wrote the 1st amendment? Was Johnson prosecuted not for his point of view, but “because of the method he chose to express his dissatisfaction”? (Justice Stevens’s dissent)

39 Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969)
Does the 1st amendment protect the rights of public school students to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War? In a 7-2 vote, the court held that the students’ action was protected because the school board didn’t demonstrate that the action was disruptive “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” (Justice Fortas, writing for the majority) Has the Court been consistent in its rulings on these types of cases?

40 United States v. Nixon (1974)
Can a federal court force a president to turn over materials (papers, tapes, etc) that a president has claimed are covered by executive privilege? In an 8-0 decision, the court ruled that “to read the Article II powers of the president as providing an absolute privilege. . .would upset the constitutional balance of a ‘workable government’ and gravely impair the role of the courts under Article III. What were the historical implications of this ruling?

41 Wesberry v. Sanders (1964) Another redistricting case; upholds the “one person, one vote” principle “While it may not be possible to draw congressional districts with mathematical precision, that is no excuse for ignoring our Constitution’s plain objective of making equal representation for equal numbers of people with the fundamental goal of the House of Representatives. That is the high standard of justice and common sense which the founders set for us.”

42 Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) Another case that originated out of Alabama—a Mobile man sued on behalf of his children, making the case that a state statute that permitted one minute of “silence or voluntary prayer” amounted to regular religious services. The court ruled 6-3 that in this case “we are faced with a state measure which forces an individual, as part of his daily life. . .to be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view he finds unacceptable.” The 1st amendment protects “the right to select any religious faith or none at all.” (Justice Stevens) Would the moment of silence pass the Lemon test if the wording was changed?

43 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989)
The first major challenge to Roe, this case upheld that state legislatures can place some limits on abortions. Specifically, can states refuse to spend taxpayers’ money on abortions? (yes) Can states decide when life begins (language in the Missouri law said life began at conception)? (yes) Can states recognize the rights of the unborn? (yes) How are these limitations not inconsistent with the Roe decision?

44 West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette (1943)
Can states require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag? What if students’ religious beliefs consider this to be worshipping a graven image? Do such laws pass the Lemon test? Do such laws prohibit the students’ free exercise of religion? The West Virginia state statute was found unconstitutional in a 6-3 vote

45 Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) This case involves Amish families who wished to end their children’s schooling at the eighth grade. Although they felt further education teaches values they viewed as at odds with the traditional Amish lifestyle, the parents recognized the need for elementary education as necessary “in order to read the Bible, to be good farmers and citizens and to be able to deal with non-Amish people when necessary in the course of daily affairs.” Do compulsory education laws infringe on the free exercise clause? In a 6-1 decision, the court found that such laws do violate the free exercise clause. Some critics of this ruling contend that by exempting the Amish, the state is actually violating the establishment clause. (there’s always more than one viewpoint!)

46 Works Cited Hall, Kermit L. , ed. The Oxford Guided to United States Supreme Court Decisions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999. Menez, Joseph F and John R. Vile. Summaries of Lading Cases on the Constitution. 50th anniversary ed. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Remy, Richard C. United States Government: Democracy in Action. Glencoe, 2006. McClenaghan, William A. Magruder’s American Government. Prentice Hall, 2000. Wilson, James Q. and John J. DiIlulio, Jr. American Government. 9th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

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