Important Court Cases 2012
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Miller v California (1973)
Is the sale and distribution of obscene materials by mail protected under the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantee?
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that obscene materials did not enjoy First Amendment protection.
Lawrence v Texas (2003)
Do the criminal convictions of "Homosexual Conduct" law violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of laws? Do their criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home violate their vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
In a 6-3 opinion the Court held that the Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause. "Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government"
Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992)
- Can a state require women who want an abortion to obtain informed consent, wait 24 hours, and, if minors, obtain parental consent, without violating their right to abortions as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?
- 5-to-4 decision, the Court again reaffirmed Roe, but it upheld most of the Pennsylvania provisions.
United States v Lopez (1995)
- Is the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act, forbidding individuals from knowingly carrying a gun in a school zone, unconstitutional because it exceeds the power of Congress to legislate under the Commerce Clause?
- Yes. The possession of a gun in a local school zone is not an economic activity.
Hazelwood School Distric v Kuhlmeier (1987)
- Did the principal's deletion of the articles violate the students' rights under the First Amendment?
- No. In a 5-to-3 decision, the Court held that the First Amendment did not require schools to affirmatively promote particular types of student speech.
Regents of the University of California v Bakke (1977)
Did the University of California violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by practicing an affirmative action policy that resulted in the repeated rejection of Bakke's application for admission to its medical school?
The use of racial quotas as employed at the school violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but the use of race as a criterion in admissions decisions in higher education was constitutionally permissible.
Roe v Wade (1973)
- Does the Constitution embrace a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?
- The Court held that a woman's right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy (recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut) protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Buckley v Valeo (1976)
- Did the limits placed on electoral expenditures by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech and association clauses?
- Restrictions on individual contributions to political campaigns and candidates did not violate the First Amendment. The limitation on expenditures by candidates from their own personal or family resources, and the limitation on total campaign expenditures did violate the First Amendment.
Engel v Vitale (1962)
- Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?
- Yes. Neither the prayer's nondenominational character nor its voluntary character saves it from unconstitutionality.
Gideon v Wainwright (1963)
- Did the state court's failure to appoint counsel for Gideon violate his right to a fair trial and due process of law as protected by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?
- In this case the Court found that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel was a fundamental right, essential to a fair trial, which should be made applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Marbury v Madison (1803)
The justices held, through Marshall's forceful argument, that on the last issue the Constitution was "the fundamental and paramount law of the nation" and that "an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void." In other words, when the Constitution--the nation's highest law--conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid. This case establishes the Supreme Court's power of judicial review.
McCulloch v Maryland (1819)
- Did Congress have the authority to establish the bank? Did the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers?
- The Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate the bank and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers.
Gibbons v Ogden (1824)
A New York state law gave two individuals the exclusive right to operate steamboats on waters within state jurisdiction. Did the State of New York exercise authority in a realm reserved exclusively to Congress, namely, the regulation of interstate commerce? The Court found that New York's licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade.
Barron v Baltimore (1833)
As the city developed and expanded, large amounts of sand accumulated in the harbor, depriving Barron of the deep waters which had been the key to his successful business. Does the Fifth Amendment deny the states as well as the national government the right to take private property for public use without justly compensating the property's owner? Found that the limitations on government articulated in the Fifth Amendment were specifically intended to limit the powers of the national government.
Griswold v Connecticut (1964)
Does the Constitution protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on a couple's ability to be counseled in the use of contraceptives? Together, the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, create a new constitutional right, the right to privacy in marital relations.
Miranda v Arizona (1965)
- Does the police practice of interrogating individuals without notifiying them of their right to counsel and their protection against self-incrimination violate the Fifth Amendment?
- The Court specifically outlined the necessary aspects of police warnings to suspects, including warnings of the right to remain silent and the right to have counsel present during interrogations.
Gitlow v New York (1925)
- Is the New York law punishing advocacy to overthrow the government by force an unconstitutional violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
- Does the First Amendment apply to the states? Yes. A state may forbid both speech and publication if they have a tendency to result in action dangerous to public security, even though such utterances create no clear and present danger. Those legislative decisions will be upheld if not unreasonable, and the defendant will be punished even if her speech created no danger at all.
Near v Minnesota (1931)
- Does the Minnesota "gag law" violate the free press provision of the First Amendment?
- The Supreme Court held that the statute authorizing the injunction was unconstitutional as applied.
Texas v Johnson (1989)
- Is the desecration of an American flag, by burning or otherwise, a form of speech that is protected under the First Amendment?
- In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that Johnson's burning of a flag was protected expression under the First Amendment.
Webster v Reproductive Health Services (1989)
- Did the Missouri restrictions unconstitutionally infringe upon the right to privacy or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
- First, the Court held that the preamble had not been applied in any concrete manner for the purposes of restricting abortions, and thus did not present a constitutional question. Second, the Court held that the Due Process Clause did not require states to enter into the business of abortion, and did not create an affirmative right to governmental aid in the pursuit of constitutional rights. Third, the Court found that no case or controversy existed in relation to the counseling provisionsof the law. Finally, the Court upheld the viability testing requirements, arguing that the State's interest in protecting potential life could come into existence before the point of viability.
Heart of Atlanta Motel v United States (1964)
- Did Congress, in passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, exceed its Commerce Clause powers by depriving motels, such as the Heart of Atlanta, of the right to choose their own customers?
- The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no "right" to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.
New York Times v Sullivan (1964)
- Did Alabama's libel law, by not requiring Sullivan to prove that an advertisement personally harmed him and dismissing the same as untruthful due to factual errors, unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment's freedom of speech and freedom of press protections?
- The Court held that the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice.
Tinker v Des Moines School District (1969)
- Does a prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school, as a form of symbolic protest, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech protections?
- The wearing of armbands was "closely akin to 'pure speech'" and protected by the First Amendment. School environments imply limitations on free expression, but here the principals lacked justification for imposing any such limits.
Lemon v Kurtzman (1970)
- Did the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania statutes violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by making state financial aid available to "church- related educational institutions"?
- Yes, to be constitutional, a statute must have "a secular legislative purpose," it must have principal effects which neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
Korematsu v US (1944)
- Did the President and Congress go beyond their war powers by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Americans of Japanese descent?
- The Court sided with the government and held that the need to protect against espionage outweighed Korematsu's rights.
Brown v Board of Education (II) (1954)
- After its decision in Brown I which declared racial discrimination in public education unconstitutional, the Court convened to issue the directives which would help to implement its newly announced Constitutional principle.What means should be used to implement the principles announced in Brown I?
- The Court held that the problems identified in Brown I required varied local solutions
Plessy v Ferguson (1896)
- Is Louisiana's law mandating racial segregation on its trains an unconstitutional infringement on both the privileges and immunities and the equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?
- No, the state law is within constitutional boundaries.
Schenck v United States (1919)
- During World War I, Schenck mailed circulars to draftees. The circulars suggested that the draft was a monstrous wrong motivated by the capitalist system.Schenck was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act by attempting to cause insubordination in the military and to obstruct recruitment.Are Schenck's actions (words, expression) protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
- Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, concluded that Schenck is not protected in this situation. The character of every act depends on the circumstances.
Furman v Georgia (1971)
- Accidently killed someone. Does the imposition and carrying out of the death penalty in these cases constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
- Yes. The Court's one-page per curiam opinion held that the imposition of the death penalty in these cases constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated the Constitution.
Gregg v Georgia (1975)
- Gregg challenged his remaining death sentence for murder, claiming that his capital sentence was a "cruel and unusual" punishment that violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Is the imposition of the death sentence prohibited under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments as "cruel and unusual" punishment?
- No. In a 7-to-2 decision, the Court held that a punishment of death did not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments under all circumstances.
New York Times v United States (1971)
- "Pentagon Papers Case," the Nixon Administration attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified Defense Department study regarding the history of United States activities in Vietnam. Did the Nixon administration's efforts to prevent the publication of what it termed "classified information" violate the First Amendment?
- Yes. In its per curiam opinion the Court held that the government did not overcome the "heavy presumption against" prior restraint of the press in this case.
Wisconsin v Yoder (1972)
- The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs. Did Wisconsin's requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?
- In a unamimous decision, the Court held that individual's interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State's interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade.
Baker v Carr (1960)
- Charles W. Baker and other Tennessee citizens alleged that a 1901 law designed to apportion the seats for the state's General Assembly was virtually ignored. Did the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over questions of legislative apportionment?
- In an opinion which explored the nature of "political questions" and the appropriateness of Court action in them, the Court held that there were no such questions to be answered in this case and that legislative apportionment was a justiciable issue.
Mapp v Ohio (1960)
- Dollree Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials after an admittedly illegal police search of her home for a fugitive. She appealed her conviction on the basis of freedom of expression. Were the confiscated materials protected by the First Amendment? (May evidence obtained through a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment be admitted in a state criminal proceeding?)
- The Court brushed aside the First Amendment issue and declared that "all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by [the Fourth Amendment], inadmissible in a state court."
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