Government and Politics AP
Important Supreme Court Cases
For the most part, information in this PowerPoint is gleaned from www.oyez.org. Any quotations in
the following slides are largely direct from the website or from the opinions of the justices as
quoted by the website.
The Roberts Court
Chief Justice John Roberts was 50 when he was sworn in as the chief justice, the
youngest to hold the position since John Marshall in 1801. He was nominated by
President George W. Bush in 2005. His short time in the Court of Appeals circuit
make generalizations of his judicial outlook difficult but he tends to lean towards
judicial restraint with tendencies to move beyond that from time to time.
Justice Antonin Scalia is considered one of the most brilliant, explosive and
controversial justices to sit on the bench and he was nominated by President Ronald
Reagan in 1985. His tenure has followed a consistent path of a strict constructionism
and of judicial restraint.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was the last nominee to the Court by President
Ronald Reagan in 1988. However, his confirmation was a contentious one
because he was a substitute after the Senate rejections of Robert Bork and
Douglas Ginsburg on ideological grounds. While introduced as a moderate
conservative, interested in judicial restraint, he is more characterized today
as a swing voter, likely to support the more liberal members of the Court as
than the more conservative ones.
Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court by President
George H.W. Bush in 1991. His confirmation hearing turned into show trial that
centered on accusations of sexual harassment and it received nearly non-stop
television coverage. The justice characterized the confirmation as a “high tech
lynching.” Since his rather auspicious beginnings, he’s established a successful
career as the most strident judicial restraint advocates in the Court’s history.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated to the Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
The first female tenured law professor at Cornell Law School, she surprised opponents
and advocates alike in her first years on the bench. Instead of steadily falling on the
judicial activism side of things as many predicted, she has proven to go, depending on the
facts of the case, in either the direction of the loose constructionist many thought she
would be or of the strict constructionist, siding with Justice Thomas or good friend Justice
Justice Stephen Breyer was appointed to the Court by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
His education stems from some of the top universities in the world – Stanford, Oxford
and Harvard. He has built a career of a moderate jurist and tends to rule in a non-
ideological sort of way, or at least as much as one can in his job. While his moderate
nature has kept him from controversy, he does not shy away from it, as evident in his
dissenting opinion with Bush v. Gore (2000) where he declared that the Court had no
business weighing in on such an issue.
Justice Samuel Alito was nominated to the Court in 2005 by President George W.
Bush. His nomination came out of the fiasco of the Harriet Myers nomination
that the president was forced to withdraw. Justice Alito adheres to a principle of
judicial restraint with what the Cato Institute labeled a libertarian streak,
especially in cases dealing with the First Amendment.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the Court by President Barack
Obama in 2009. She was the president’s first appointee and the first
person of Latin heritage in the Court’s history. Judicially, she tends to favor
more activism than some of her more conservative colleagues on the
bench. She is an avid baseball fan and as a U.S. district court judge
(nominated by President George H.W. Bush), she ruled on the 1995 Major
League Baseball strike, in favor of the players.
Justice Elena Kagan was appointed to the Court by President Barack Obama in
2010. She reversed a recent trend to nominate a judge – her career has been
in law but she has never held a judicial post. The last Supreme Court justice to
claim that was William Rehnquist, nominated by President Richard Nixon in
1972. With a lack of judicial decisions, it is difficult to determine, with
certainty, how she will perform her duties. However, her career at Harvard
University and as Solicitor General suggest she might be more of an activist.
Abington School District v. Schempp
First Amendment – Establishment clause
The facts: The case centers on two cases of bible reading and the recitation of prayer at
a public school. One of the cases stemmed from Pennsylvania (Abington School District)
and another from Baltimore. While one could be excused from such exercises with a
note from the parent, professed atheists challenged the practice.
The question: Did the policy violate the student’s religious freedom rights as detailed in
the First and Fourth Amendments?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Schempp, 8 to 1. Justice Clark wrote the
opinion of the majority. The Court ruled that the policy was both a violation of the Free
Exercise and the Establishment Clause and the notion of the written note did not have
anything to do with the schools’ attempt to enforce religious teachings, a violation of the
Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995)
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments – Equal protection
The facts: Adarand Constructors was a company vying for a federal contract to put in
guardrails but due to a law requiring a certain amount of minorities and economically
disadvantaged ownership of companies, the company was dismissed in favor a Mexican-
The question: Does the selection or dismissal of a company solely on the basis of race a
discriminatory practice and a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fifth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
The decision: The Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of Adarand Constructors. Justice O’Connor
wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that such favoritism does amount to a
violation of the equal protection clause and even in those cases where it is allowed, it must
only be allowed on the basis of strict perimeter.
Argersinger v. Hamlin (1972)
Sixth Amendment – Right to counsel
The facts: Mr. Argersinger was an indigent who was convicted for carrying a concealed
weapon – against Florida law. However, though he was convicted and sentenced to 90
days in jail, he did not have an attorney during the whole of the trial.
The question: Does the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee access to a lawyer
in cases of misdemeanors?
The decision: The Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of Argersinger. Justice Douglas wrote the
opinion for the Court. While Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) guarantee a lawyer to indigents
in the event of serious cases, the justices agreed that such protection should be extended
to any offense that could end in jail time.
Baker v. Carr (1962)
The facts: Charles Baker and other Tennessee citizens declared that the way the state
legislature reapportions was in violation of state law and ignored changes within the
The question: Does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over issues of legislative
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Baker 6 to 2. Justice Brennan wrote the
opinion for the majority. Because this was not a “political” question, the Court said
that it could, as it has done in the past, weigh in on matters of state governance if
constitutional improprieties were evident. The Court used the equal protection clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment as a rational.
Benton v. Maryland (1968)
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments – Double jeopardy
The facts: John Benton was charged in the state on the crimes of larceny and
burglary. Initially, he was found guilty only of burglary. However, when he appealed
his conviction on the burglary, the new trail convicted him on both charges and he
The question: Did the Maryland conviction in line with the Fourteenth Amendment
and the due process clause violate Mr. Benton’s protection against double jeopardy as
afforded to him in the Fifth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Benton, 7-2. Justice Marshall wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court had to confront an earlier ruling, Palko v.
Connecticut (1937), that stated the Fifth Amendment clause on double jeopardy did
not apply to the states. The Court overruled the previous case on the basis that, as
Justice Marshall said in his opinion, the Fifth Amendment “represents a fundamental
Betts v. Brady (1942)
The facts: Mr. Betts was an indigent in Maryland where he was arrested for robbery.
During the trail, Mr. Betts requested a lawyer be provided for him but the judged
refused. He continued to serve as his own counsel while professing his innocence.
The question: Does the decision of the judge violate the due process clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment, which supports the right to counsel provision in the Sixth
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Brady. Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for
the majority. The answer was no, stating that the clause of “right to counsel” did not
suggest that the states must provide a lawyer. Instead, it simply meant that the Court
could not interfere with any attempt to secure representation.
Blakely v. Washington (2004)
Sixth Amendment – Right to trial by jury
The facts: Mr. Blakely was found guilty of kidnapping his wife. The sentence for such
crimes in the state of Washington had been standardized at 53 months but the
measure allowed for judges, in cases of extenuating circumstances, to add time as he
saw fit. The judge brought the total sentence to 90 months, citing Mr. Blakely’s
cruelty. Mr. Blakely, however, said the move away from the standard denied him his
Sixth Amendment right to have the jury decide his sentence on the basis of the facts
and that only.
The question: Does any sentencing above the standard range require a jury’s
approval or that such additional conclusions be made “beyond a reasonable doubt?”
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Blakely, 5 to 4. Justice Scalia wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that any time a sentence is handed down
and it is beyond that of the standard length, it needs to be agreed upon by the jury
and such facts tied to the case but be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The
actions of the judge on the basis of his definition of “excessively cruel” undermines
Mr. Blakely’s Sixth Amendment rights and the role and authority of the jury.
Board of Education v. Earls (2002)
The facts: Chronologically, this is the second of two cases in this presentation on the
legality of urinalysis and high school students (Vernonia School District v. Acton in 1995).
In the Tecumseh (OK) School District, a drug policy required all those seeking participation
in extracurricular activities must submit to a urinalysis. Two high school students
protested, suggesting the policy infringed upon their Fourth Amendment rights. While
the original court favored the school district, a Oklahoma Court of Appeals ruled in favor
of the students. It said that the school must first demonstrate a wide-spread problem
before they can act is such a way.
The question: Is the school policy, requiring all students interested in extracurricular
activities to submit to a drug test, in line with the Fourth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the school board, 5 to 4. Justice Thomas wrote
the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the reasonable attempts of preventing
drug use in students and the students inherent minimal expectation of privacy renders
the decision constitutionally sound and not in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
However, the Court said, “In upholding the constitutionality of this policy, we express no
opinion as to its wisdom.”
Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
Fourteenth Amendment – Due process
The facts: Mr. Hardwick was seen by a Georgia police officer engaged in an act of
homosexual sodomy and was arrested on the basis of the state’s anti-sodomy laws. Mr.
Hardwick challenged the constitutionality of the law and a state Court of Appeals agreed,
much to the chagrin of state Attorney General Michael Bowers.
The question: Does the constitution confer an inherent right for homosexuals to engage
in consensual sodomy?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Bowers, 5 to 4. Justice White wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court said that while it has acted to protect rights in the past, it was
only those rights not easily identifiable in the Constitution or were part of a deep and
honored tradition in the United States. Since the act of sodomy did not apply to any of
those exceptions, it ruled that the states could make its own laws in reference to that
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)
The facts: James Dale, an adult member of the Scouts and an Eagle leader, was
dismissed by the Boy Scouts when it was discovered he was an homosexual and a gay
rights’ activist. The Boy Scouts is a private, not-for-profit organization. Dale sued saying
that the act was in violation of a New Jersey law preventing discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation in “places of public accommodation.” The state courts were split
on whether the New Jersey law trumped the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment rights.
The question: Does the New Jersey law on the notion of public accommodation violate
the Scouts First Amendment rights?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts, 5 to 4. Chief Justice Rehnquist
said yes, the New Jersey law violated the Boy Scouts First Amendment rights. Forcing
the Scouts to accept Dale as a leader would equally compel the organization to send a
message to its members of acceptance that violates its core values and beliefs.
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
The facts: Brandenburg was a Ku Klux Klan leader who was making a speech when
arrested by Ohio officials on the basis that he was encouraging acts of crime and
violence to achieve political and industrial reform. It also suggested that the speech
was an example of “criminal syndicalism.”
The question: Did the Ohio anti-syndicalism law violate Brandenburg’s First
Amendment rights to speech?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Brandenburg, 8 to 0 in a per curiam decision.
The Court said that the First Amendment allows for the teaching and advocacy of such
beliefs and was constitutional as long as the acts of violence or criminal activity were
not imminent. Without the imminent threat, the Ohio law was too broad and
Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka,
Fourteenth Amendment – Equal protection
The facts: Black students were segregated in public schools because of either de jure
or de facto laws. This case was presented in conjunction with several other cases from
throughout the South.
The question: Does the segregation of school children solely on the basis of race
constitute a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Brown, 9 to 0. Chief Justice Warren wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court decided that indeed, yes, the policy of segregation,
first ruled constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), was tantamount to a violation of
the students rights detailed in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court explained that
anything classified as separate but equal was inherently unequal and could not be
justified in the realm of public education or in any other arena.
Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
First Amendment – Appointments clause
The facts: Given recent events of Watergate, the government sought to restrict
unlawful or undemocratic influence by way of political campaign contributions.
Contributions made to a campaign was limited and the Federal Election Commission
was created to oversee and regulate these restrictions.
The question: Did restrictions placed on individual contributions limit the rights of
speech and association in accordance with the First Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Buckley, 7 to 1 in a per curiam decision. The
Court issued two edicts on the topic of campaign contributions. First, any limit on the
individual’s donation to a campaign was constitutional because the goal was to
maintain a certain level of integrity and to eliminate some of the more unsavory
practices of the past. However, with regards to limits on how much a candidate could
spend in the course of their race, independent expenditures, there was no
constitutional basis for such a restriction.
Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940)
The facts: Jesse Cantwell and his son were Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching in a
predominantly Catholic neighborhood when some Catholics were upset when they
voluntarily listened to some anti-Catholic messages. The men were arrested for violating
local ordinances and disturbing the peace.
The question: Did the notion of disturbing the peace violate the Cantwells First
Amendment rights of speech and the free exercise clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Cantwell, 9 to 0. The Court ruled that while it
was proper for a community to set up civil codes and restrictions on disturbances, they
could not solely on the grounds of religion. While the message being delivered may have
been offensive, it could not be construed as dangerous or harmful.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v.
City of Hialeah (1993)
Free exercise of religion
The facts: The church was one that followed the Afro-Caribbean faith of Santeria and
one of the components of the faith is animal sacrifice, followed by a feast where the
animal is eaten. The city council of Hialeah, Florida, upon hearing of the arrival of the
church, passed several ordinances to limit the practice of animal sacrifices.
The question: Did the city ordinances against animal sacrifices violate the Free Exercise
clause of the First Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, 9 to 0.
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court decided that the ordinances
were unlawful because they specifically targeted the church and the religious practice
within. Because of its singular application, the Court ruled there could be no justification
of the ordinances.
Citizens United v. Federal Election
The facts: Citizens United sought to enjoin the Federal Election Commission from applying
the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) to its film, Hillary: The Movie which
questioned the senator’s qualifications to be president. The BCRA limited corporations
from funding communications on elections from their own treasury. Additionally, the law
required the movie to list all donors to the film when communication is not approved by
the candidate it portends to support. Citizens United felt both provisions were
unconstitutional but the District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that the Supreme
Court McConnell v. FEC already approved the individual components of the BCRA.
The question: There are four questions considered here: one, did the BCRA get a
complete constitutional pass by McConnell v. FEC; does the disclosure of contributors an
unconstitutional measure as this was not an example of a “campaign speech”; if no one
candidate is supported, does the BCRA have grounds to regulate it; should documentaries
be classified the same as political ads for the purpose of BCRA regulation?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, 5 to 4. Justice Kennedy wrote
the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that any limit to the expression of people,
even as a part of a corporation, was unconstitutional. A freedom of speech is no less
important if it comes from a corporation.
Clinton v. Jones (1997)
Separation of powers
The facts: Paula Jones sued President Bill Clinton. She claimed that while as a state
employee in Arkansas, she was forced to rebuff many advances from then-Governor Clinton
and when she continued to reject the advances, was punished with by state supervisors.
The president was able to get a grant from a district court saying that all matters relative to
the case be postponed until the issue of his presidential immunity could be applied to the
case. Once the immunity had been granted, the president hoped to dismiss the case
altogether. The district judged denied the immunity request but did grant that the case
could wait until after his presidency. On appeal, the 8th Circuit court agreed with the denial
of a dismissal of the case but overturned the deferment of the proceedings, declaring it
would provide an ad hoc immunity to the president, albeit, temporarily.
The question: Is a sitting president, for reasons of separation of powers, allowed immunity
from any litigation resulting from actions or accusations prior to becoming president?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Jones, 9 to 0. Justice Stephens wrote the opinion
for the Court. The Court felt that no level of presidential immunity should protect a
president from litigation save for some “highly unusual circumstances.” Respecting the
presidency, the Court said that while the separation of powers is vital, it is does not
necessarily prevent one branch from exerting control over another.
Colorado Republican Federal
Campaign Committee v. FEC (1996)
Federal election campaign
The facts: Prior to the 1986 senatorial campaign and the party selecting a candidate, the
Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (CRFCC) initiated radio advertisements
attacking the Democratic nominee. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) said the ads
violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) on spending limits. The CRFCC declared
the whole law unconstitutional and challenged it.
The question: Does the FECA’s limits on campaign spending violate First Amendment
rights when applied to a party’s independent spending and not connected to a particular
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the CRFCC, 7 to 2. Justice Breyer wrote the
opinion of the majority. The Court ruled that as it applies here, any limits on campaign
spending not connected to a particular candidate but made by the party independently is
a violation of the First Amendment rights. In addendum, Justice Thomas went so far as to
say that the entire law was unconstitutional.
Craig v. Boren (1976)
The facts: The state of Oklahoma passed a law prohibiting the sale of “non-intoxicating”
beer to males under 21 and females under 18. Curtis Craig, a male between 18 and 21, as
well as a vendor challenged the law as discriminatory.
The question: By creating different drinking ages for males and females, did the state of
Oklahoma violate the Fourth Amendment’s equal protection clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Craig, 7 to 2. Justice Brennan wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that the law made unconstitutional differentiation
between male and female. Furthermore, the statistics on road fatalities that the state
used to justified its law was insufficient to make such a distinction.
Cruzan v. Director, Missouri
Department of Health (1990)
The facts: In 1983, Susan Cruzan was in an automobile accident that left her in a
vegetative state, kept alive for several weeks being fed by a tube. When her parents ask
that she be taken off life support, the hospital refused unless allowed to by a court. The
Missouri Supreme Court upheld the state policy over the right to refuse treatment.
The question: Did the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit
Cruzan’s parents to refuse life support on her behalf?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the director of the Missouri Department of
Health, 5 to 4. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court’s
main concern was the idea that the parents were acting on behalf of their daughter, a
medically incompetent person, though no documentation existed saying this was the wish
of Cruzan. Therefore, since it was reasonable that parents will not always act in the best
interests of an “incompetent person” and such action would be irreversible, then the
hospital’s decision was constitutional.
De Jonge v. Oregon (1937)
The facts: During a meeting of the local chapter of the Communist Party, Dirk De Jonge
was speaking when police raided the function and arrested De Jonge on the grounds of
criminal syndicalism – the act of speaking to encourage violence, criminal activity,
sabotage or other illegal activity seeking political or industrial change. After being
convicted, De Jonge asked for an acquittal due to lack of evidence to the charge.
However, the Oregon Supreme Court said by the fact that he presided over a meeting of
an organization, the Communist Party, whose teachings include criminal syndicalism, he
was indeed guilty.
The question: Did Oregon’s criminal syndicalism law violate the due process clause of the
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of De Jonge. Chief Justice Hughes wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the Oregon law violated the due process
clause as well as sacrificed De Jonge’s First Amendment rights of speech and peaceful
assembly. The measure of De Jonge’s offense must be measured by what he said, not the
auspices for the meeting of the Communist Party – what he said did not constitute any
violation of the limits to free speech.
Dickerson v. United States (2000)
The facts: While being questioned about a robbery he was connected with, Charles
Dickerson voluntarily admitted to serving as a getaway driver in a series of robberies. He
was arrested and charged but dispute arose out of the timing of his voluntary testimony,
whether it was before or after being advised of his Miranda rights. During the trial,
Dickerson requested his testimony be ruled inadmissible because he was not read his
rights. However, the government argued that he waived his rights and under law,
testimony can be admissible if given voluntarily, whether rights are read or not. While a
district court granted Dickerson’s motion, a court of appeals favored
The question: Can an act of Congress, the law evoked by the government, overrule
Miranda rights and its restrictions on the kind of evidence that can be used based on
testimony while in custody?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Dickerson, 7 to 2. Chief Justice Rehnquist
wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court said that the Congress had no authority to
overrule or supersede the elements of the Miranda rights and its application. Justices
Thomas and Scalia, in dissent, lambasted the majority saying the decision gave “needless
protection to foolish (but not compelled) confessions.”
District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)
The facts: The District of Columbia gun laws were some of the strictest in the country,
requiring a complete ban on most weapons and a strict registration process on legal guns.
Furthermore, the laws mandated that all legal guns must be kept unloaded and
disassembled. Private gun owners declared the laws violated their Second Amendment
rights but a D.C. trial court said the Second Amendment only applied to militias like the
National Guard and not applicable to private citizens. A U.S. court of appeals in D.C. said
the Second Amendment protects the plaintiffs though petitioners said that nothing is
banned but regulated and because D.C. is a “federal enclave” and not a state, the same
protections do not apply. This was the first time in seventy years that the Court dealt
with the issue of the Second Amendment right to own weapons.
The question: Do the District of Columbia gun regulations violate the private citizen’s
Second Amendment rights?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Heller, 5 to 4. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion
for the majority. In essence, the Court said that the Second Amendment, based on future
interpretations and rulings on the state level, did protect private ownership of guns. In
dissent, Justices Stephens and Breyer argued that the Second Amendment only afforded
militias the right to have weapons.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
Fifth Amendment, Missouri Compromise
The facts: From 1833 to 1843, Dred Scott, a slave, lived with his master in Illinois (a free
state) and Wisconsin, a portion of the Louisiana Territory ruled free according to the
Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott sued in a Missouri court saying he residence in a
free territory made him free. His master argued that Scott was not a citizen, in
accordance to Article III and ergo, could not sue for his freedom.
The question: Was Dred Scott free or slave?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Sandford, 7 to 2. Chief Justice Taney wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that Articles III and IV disqualified Scott as a
citizen and only Congress can confer citizenship. The Court further declared the Missouri
Compromise unconstitutional. The impact of the decision implied that slavery could
exist anywhere – no state or territory could forbid slavery within its borders.
Elk Grove Unified School District v.
The facts: Michael Newdow’s daughter attended the Elk Grove Unified School District in
California. The school recited the Pledge of Alliegence every day, including the “under
God” part, added by Congress in 1954. Mr. Newdow stated that, even if voluntary and
not required to stand, the pledge and the “under God” was a violation of the
Establishment Clause. While a district court threw out the case because Mr. Newdow did
not have custody of his daughter , the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that both the
pledge in school and congressional addendum in 1954 were unconstitutional.
The question: Does Mr. Newdow have a standing to bring suit on behalf of his daughter?
Does a school district’s compulsory policy of teachers leading willing students in the
pledge violate the Establishment Clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the school district, 8 to 0. Justice Stephens
wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that Mr. Newdow did not have a
standing to sue on behalf of his daughter as he did not have custody. Therefore, the
Court never ruled on the constitutional question. However, Justices O’Connor and
Thomas, in a concurring opinion, stated that the school district’s actions were
Engel v. Vitale (1962)
Establishment of religion
The facts: The Board of Regents of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer to
start each school day. It was a bland, ecumenical prayer meant to dissolve a political
The question: Does the reading of a non-denominational prayer violate the
Establishment clause of the First Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Engel, 6 to 1. Justice Black wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court said that neither the fact the prayer was voluntary or non-
denominational made it constitutional. This decision would be used to target all prayers
that were traditionally a part of public ceremonies. It remains a very unpopular with
Escobedo v. Illinois (1964)
Right to counsel
The facts: Danny Escobedo was held for questioning, being refused a lawyer and
refusing his lawyer a chance to see his client. Mr. Escobedo ultimately confessed to
The question: Was Mr. Escobedo denied his Sixth Amendment rights to counsel?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Escobedo, 5 to 4. Justice Goldberg wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court used the term “absolute right to remain silent.” Mr.
Escobedo was not informed of his constitutional rights of remaining silent. Since the
case, the power of it as precedent on the issue of interrogation and confessions have
shifted from the Sixth to the Fifth Amendment.
Frontiero v. Richardson (1973)
Due Process clause, Equal Protection clause
The facts: The military had a rule saying that wives of military members were
automatically considered dependents but if the military personnel was a woman and the
spouse a man, then the man must depend on at least of half of their support on their
wife. Shannon Frontiero was a lieutenant who sought to have her husband listed as a
dependent but was refused.
The question: Did the different qualifications for men and women to be dependent
violate the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Frontiero, 8 to 1. Justice Brennan wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court said the military policy was a clear violation of the
due process clause in that it set standards solely delineating male from female and that
Furman v. Georgia (1972)
The facts: Mr. Furman was burglarizing a home when he was discovered by an owner of
the home. In an attempt to flee, he tripped, fell and his gun went off, killing a member of
the household. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
The question: Does the death penalty violate the cruel and unusual punishment elements
of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Furman, 5 to 4 in a per curiam decision. There
were over 200 pages of concurrence and dissent. While Justices Marshall and Brennan felt
that the practice was unconstitutional without qualifications, the other justices would not
rule it forbidden out of hand. Instead, the other justices felt the sentence in this case was
capricious and possibly racially motivated. In writing their opinions, the Court asked states
to reconsider the perimeters of capital punishment laws.
Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
Article I, section 8, clause 3
The facts: The state of New York controlled a monopoly over sea-faring transportation
between it and New Jersey, requiring New Jersey boats to pay an extra fees in order to sail
the waters between the two states. The steamboat owner, Mr. Gibbons, challenged the
The question: Did New York attempt to exercise a power, regulation of interstate
commerce, that was reserved for the U.S. Congress?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Gibbons, 6 to 0. Chief Justice Marshall wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that New York violated the Supremacy clause by
infringing upon congressional authority. In his opinion, Justice Marshall included the sea
traffic as a part of the definition of “commerce.”
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)
Right to counsel
The facts: Mr. Gideon was charged in Florida with breaking and entering. Lacking the
money for a lawyer, he asked the court for one but it refused, saying it was only required
to do so for indigents in capital cases. Mr. Gideon defended himself but not well. He
was convicted and sentenced to five years in a state prison.
The question: Did the Florida state court violate Mr. Gideon’s right to a fair trial and due
process of law in accordance to the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Gideon, 9 to 0. Justice Black wrote the opinion
for the Court. Overruling Betts v. Brady (1942), the Court said the state court was
required to provide representation, if one can not afford one. Furthermore, it declared
the right to counsel a fundamental right as detailed in the Due Process clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Black concluded that “lawyers in criminal courts are
necessities, not luxuries.”
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
The facts: Mr. Gitlow was arrested for handing out “a left-wing manifesto” under the
state anarchy law, punishing one who pushed for the overthrow of the government. Mr.
Gitlow said that since no such action took place, there was no basis for his indictment but
the state responded that anyone advocated such as ideas were guilty, whether violence
followed or not.
The question: Does the New York anarchy law and forbiddance of speech that advocates
the overthrow of the government violated the free speech clause of the First
The decision: The case represents a threshold issue. The Court said the Fourteenth
Amendment applies the due process clause to the states. Regarding the specifics of the
case however, New York can limit speech that has a tendency to cause dangerous actions
even if the speech itself presents no imminent danger. As long as classifications of what is
dangerous or not is reasonable, the Court will uphold state actions.
Gonzales v. Oregon (2006)
18 U.S. Code 801
The facts: In accordance with the 1994 Oregon law Death with Dignity Act, doctors were
allowed lethal doses of controlled substances to give to terminally ill patients. The
government said the practice was in violation of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970
and threatened to take their licenses. Oregon sued and the court and the Ninth Circuit
concurred with the state of Oregon.
The question: Did the Controlled Substance Ban prevent doctors from using such
paraphernalia in the course of their practice?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Oregon, 6 to 3. Justice Kennedy wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that Oregon was not in violation of the act
because the purpose of the doctor was not illegal drug dealing but medical practice.
Gonzales v. Raich (2005)
21 U.S. Code Section 801
The facts: In response to a 1996 California law that allowed for the medicinal use of
marijuana, the government declared the law in violation of the Controlled Substances
Act, which bans the possession of the drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration
confiscated large quantities of the “legal” marijuana but those arrested sued, saying the
commerce clause the government used as justification exceeded the government’s
authority. The Ninth Circuit Court said Congress’ power was only over interstate
commerce, not intrastate.
The question: Does the Controlled Substances Act exceed Congress’ power with regards
to the commerce clause relative to the intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana
for medicinal purposes?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Gonzalez, 6 to 3. Justice Stevens wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that no, the Congress had not overstepped its
authority because the drug use, however legitimized by the state of California, was part
of a national marijuana market and with the passage of the state law, it impacted the
national supply and demand for marijuana throughout the country – therefore, making it
subject to congressional oversight and authority.
Gregg v. Georgia (1976)
Eighth Amendment – Cruel and Unusual punishment
The facts: Mr. Gregg was tried and convicted on charges of burglary and murder and
sentenced to death. He claimed that the sentence was “cruel and unusual punishment”
and therefore, a violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The case was part
of four other cases on the same subject.
The question: Does the death penalty constitute cruel and unusual punishment as
forbidden in the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Georgia, 7 to 2. Justice Stewart wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court agreed that the state’s usage of the death penalty
was not a violation and if used properly and with caution, as the state of Georgia did,
then it could serve as a deterrent.
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
The facts: Estelle Griswold, the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of
Connecticut and her medical director were arrested and convicted for espousing, to
married couples, the notion of contraception.
The question: Does the Constitution protect the privacy rights of married couples seeking
instruction and advise on the use of contraceptives?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Griswold, 7 to 2. Justice Douglas wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court said that while the Constitution does not specifically
address the notion of privacy but does hint at a space that each individual deserves and
within and from that, the Court derived privacy. A combination of the First, Third, Fourth
and Ninth Amendments creates a new right – the right of privacy for marital couples.
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
Equal protection clause
The facts: Barbara Grutter attempted to enroll at the law school at the University of
Michigan and while her qualifications were exemplary, the school admitted that race was a
contributing factor in order to achieve a well-diversed student body – a greater good for
the university. While a district court ruled that the university’s concerns were not
legitimate enough to warrant such a policy, the Court of Appeals used University of
California v. Bakke (1978) as precedent for the constitutionality of affirmative action
The question: Does the entrance qualifications for the University of Michigan Law School
violate the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment or Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Bollinger, 5 to 4. Justice O’Connor wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the school’s entry process is meant to
create a greater good and does no excessive harm to nonminority students. Furthermore,
since the race of a candidate is only one part of entry process, nothing was being done on
race alone – something that would conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004)
The facts: Yaser Hamdi was an American citizen arrested in Afghanistan by the U.S. military
for fighting with the Taliban. He was detained as an “enemy combatant” in Virginia. Mr.
Hamdi argued that as an American citizen, his Fifth Amendment rights of due process were
being violated however, the government responded, saying that during wartime, the
executive branch has the power to label someone an enemy combatant and ergo, could
restrict their liberties. While a district court overturned the decision, the Fourth Circuit
Court of Appeals said the separation of powers allow the Executive and Legislative branches
powers to operate a war that the judicial could not – therefore, the Court should cede to
the executive on this issue.
The question: There are two questions here. One, does the government violate Mr.
Hamdi’s Fifth Amendment rights when it holds him indefinitely? Second, does the
separation of powers clause excuse the judicial from deferring to the Executive for defining
what is a “non-combatant.”
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Hamdi, 8 to 1. Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion
for the majority. A very divided Court said yes and no on separate issues. First, Mr. Hamdi’s
Fifth Amendment rights could not be waived by the labeling of him as an “enemy
combatant.” Secondly, the Court also rejected the notion of the separation of powers
preventing the judiciary from hearing the case.
Harmelin v. Michigan (1991)
Eighth Amendment – Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The facts: Ronald Harmelin was convicted under Michigan law for possessing over 650
grams of cocaine and sentenced to life without parole. Mr. Harmelin challenged the
conviction as cruel and unusual and disproportionate to the crime committed. Additionally,
he said the sentence was handed out without considering the fact that he had no prior
The question: Does a mandated sentence that does not consider outside factors a violation
of the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Michigan, 5 to 4. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court said the Eighth Amendment makes no comment to specificity on
guarantees of proportionality of sentences. Furthermore, the clause is to protect against
unusual forms of punishment and not against particularly cruel ones. While the sentence
may have been cruel, being placed in prison for life is not very unusual.
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
First Amendment – Freedoms of Speech and Press
The facts: A school newspaper at Hazelwood East High School, the Spectrum, prepared a
couple of articles for publication that the school principal deemed inappropriate and
ordered the articles out of the issue. Cathy Kuhlmeier and two other former students
brought the case to court.
The question: Did the principal’s actions violate the students’ First Amendment rights?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Hazelwood School District, 5 to 3. Justice
White wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court declared that the student’s First
Amendment rights are superseded by the principal’s responsibility to the culture and
effectiveness of the school and anything that hinders that cannot be allowed. In short,
there is a limited expectation of constitutional rights for students while attending public
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United
Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II
The facts: The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia would not allow blacks to stay
there – in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbade discrimination
“by places of public accommodation.”
The question: Did Congress, in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, violate the Commerce
Clause powers in denying the hotel’s rights to choose their own customers?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the U.S., 9 to 0. Justice Clark wrote the opinion
for the Court. The Court struck down the notion of the use of the Commerce clause,
stating the Congress could regulate local commerce and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had
previously been ruled constitutional. According the Court, Title II was only for those
businesses that have a substantial impact or influence on interstate commerce in the
region. The hotel possessed no “right” to pick and choose its customers, free from
Humphrey’s Executor v. United States
Articles I and II; Federal Trade Commission
The facts: President Herbert Hoover appointed and the Senate confirmed William
Humphrey as a commissioner within the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, when
President Franklin Roosevelt come to office, he fired Mr. Humphrey based on his ideas that
ran counter to the new president. Mr. Humphrey died shortly after his dismissal but the
executor of his will sued because FTC by-laws only allowed dismissal from incompetence.
The executor sued for lost wages.
The question: Did section 1 of the FTC’s charter interfere with the constitutional power of
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the U.S., 9 to 0. Justice Sutherland wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court said that dismissal solely on the grounds of ideology was
not permitted, explaining further that the president was not meant to have unlimited power
to dismiss members of the government. It also argued the government’s attempt at
pointing out precedent, Meyers v. United States (1926), where the Court upheld the
president dismissing executive office members. Here, the person in question fulfilled a
position created by Congress and who possessed quasi-legislative and judicial functions.
Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of
First Amendment – Speech and Assembly
The facts: The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council was given permission to hold a
St. Patrick’s Day Parade but did not allow the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bi-sexual
Group of Boston (GLIB) to participate. A Massachusetts court said the Veterans’ Council
must include GLIB in the proceedings but the Council said it violated their right to free
speech by forcing GLIB upon a private organization.
The question: Was the Massachusetts court’s decision a violation of the Council’s First
Amendment right to free speech?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Hurley, 9 to 0. Justice Souter wrote the opinion
of the Court. The Court said the Massachusetts ruling was forcing a private group to
espouse something, with the inclusion of GLIB, that it has no desire to espouse – a
violation of the Council’s First Amendment right to speech.
Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988)
First Amendment – Speech, Press and Assembly
The facts: In a 1983 issue of Hustler, a parody was published showing Rev. Jerry Falwell, a
fundamentalist minister and political figure, in a drunken, incestuous relationship with his
mother in an outhouse. Rev. Falwell sued on the basis of libel, invasion of privacy and the
infliction of emotional distress. An initial ruling awarded Rev. Falwell $150,000 in
damages but Hustler editor, Larry Flynt, appealed the ruling.
The question: Does the protection of the First Amendment allow for the blatantly
offensive, public attack of a public official?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Hustler Magazine, 8 to 0. Chief Justice
Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court said, in this instance, protecting
free speech took priority over the state protecting the reputation of a public figure as
long as the speech was never meant to convey actual facts.
John Peter Zenger trial (1735)
The facts: John P. Zenger was a German immigrant who worked as a printer for the New
York Weekly Journal. In 1734, he was arrested for libel due to some articles criticizing the
policies of William Cosby, the colonial governor of New York.
The question: Did Mr. Zenger’s attacks of Governor Cosby constitute libel?
The decision: One of the key components to the definition of libel in accordance to
English law was whether the scrutinized literature was based in facts. If it were, then libel
was not applicable. A New York jury found Mr. Zenger not guilty on the basis that it found
Mr. Zenger’s charges based in fact. It was the first major victory for the notion of freedom
of the press in the British colonies.
Katz v. United States (1967)
Fourth Amendment – Illegal Search and Seizure
The facts: Charles Katz, a gambler, was suspected of trading gambling information over
the phone, using a pay phone outside of his office. Federal agents tapped the pay phone
and collected phone conversations they used to convict Mr. Katz of illegal transmitting of
gambling information. Mr. Katz appealed his conviction saying the tapped phone
conversations could not be used against him.
The question: Does the Fourth Amendment’s provision against unreasonable search and
seizure pertain to police wiretapping of a public pay phone?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Katz, 7 to 1. Justice Potter Stewart wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the protections provided by the Fourth
Amendment is for people, not places and therefore, even though the pay phone was a
public one, Mr. Katz should still expect the protections of the amendment. Justice Harlan,
in a concurring opinion, coined the idea of a “reasonable expectation of Fourth
Kelo v. City of New London (2005)
Fifth Amendment – Takings clause
The facts: The city of New London, Connecticut used its eminent domain authority to
confiscate private property and sold said property to private developers. Kelo Susette and
others felt the action was in violation of the Fifth Amendment which guarantees the
government will provide just compensation if property is taken. The city argued it
provided more jobs and taxes for the city but the residents complained the property was
simply begin given to private developers. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of
The question: Do the actions of New London, taking land and giving it to developers to
help stimulate a struggling economy, constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of New London, 5 to 4. Justice Stephens wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court said that while the land was going to private
developers, it was designed to benefit the city has a whole. The “public use” in the
Constitution did not mean that people were to literally use the land but that it was made
available to the public.
Klopfer v. North Carolina (1967)
Sixth Amendment – Speedy trial
The facts: Under a North Carolina law, nolle prosequi with leave, a prosecutor can suspend
prosecution indefinitely and without explaining to a judge and a defendant in one case, Mr.
Klopfer, challenged the law and asked that charges be dismissed. He declared the North
Carolina unconstitutional because it violated his right to a speedy trial.
The question: Does North Carolina’s nolle prosequi with leave law violate a defendant’s
right to a speedy trial?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Klopfer, 9 to 0. Chief Justice Warren wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that the right to a speedy trial, a right that dates
back to English law, is a fundamental component to the Sixth Amendment and must be
adhered to by the state governments as well as the federal government. While Mr. Klopfer
was not held in custody during the wait, the anxiety and public scrutiny of pending charges
and an uncertain future was an undue burden and sacrifice. However, in later cases, the
Court held there were a balance that must be achieved with regards to a speedy trial.
Korematsu v. United States (1944)
Executive Order 9066 and Fifth Amendment
The facts: During World War II, the federal government, through Executive Order 9066,
authorized the internment of Japanese-Americans – the separation of them from areas
considered important to national security and ripe for opportunities for sabotage.
Toyosaburo Korematsu refused to adhere to the orders and remained in California.
The question: Did the President and U.S. Congress go to far putting into effect the
exclusion and curtailing the rights of Japanese-Americans?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the United States, 6 to 3. Justice Black wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court decided that the national security concerns of the
government outweighed the individual rights of Mr. Korematsu. While Justice Black
admitted the compulsory exclusion was constitutionally suspect, it was justified in the
time of war.
Lawrence and Garner v. Texas (2003)
Fourteenth Amendment – Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses
The facts: Responding to a disturbance, Houston police entered the apartment of John
Lawrence and saw him and Tyron Garner engaged in a consensual homosexual act. The
two were arrested on violation of a Texas statue that forbade homosexual sexual activity.
The question: Does the criminalization of homosexual sex but not heterosexual sex
constitute a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Does the conviction constitute a violation of their expected privacy within their own
home and the Due Process clause of the same amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Lawrence and Garner, 6 to 3. Justice Kennedy
wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court declared that the state had indeed violated
the equal protection clause and due process clause in arrested the two men. Justice
Kennedy wrote, “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full
right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”
Malloy v. Hogan (1964)
The facts: William Malloy was arrested by Hartford, Connecticut police for gambling, he
plead guilty to a misdemeanor and sentenced to one year in jail. He was released after
90 days and given two years of probation. Nearly two years later, a state court ordered
Mr. Malloy to testify about other illegal gambling operations in the state. When Mr.
Malloy refused, he was confined for contempt of court until he was willing to answer. He
filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his imprisonment.
The question: Does the Fourteenth Amendment protect a state witness’s Fifth
Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Malloy, 5 to 4. Justice Brennan wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination
clause is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against any violation by the state.
“Noting that the American judicial system is accusatorial, not inquisitorial, the Court
ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment secures defendants against self-incrimination”
and forces the prosecution to create a case absent of and not dependent upon witnesses
or suspect’s testimony.
Mapp v. Ohio (1961)
The facts: During an illegal search of her home in pursuit of a fugitive, police found
obscene material in the home of Dorlee Mapp. She was convicted for the possession of
the material. Ms. Mapp said the conviction was a violation of her freedom of
The question: Were the materials confiscated protected by the First Amendment? Can
evidence obtained during an illegal search be used as part of a criminal proceeding in
accordance with the Fourth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Mapp, 6 to 3. Justice Clark wrote the opinion
for the majority. Sidestepping the First Amendment issue altogether, the Court declared
that any evidence obtained as part of an illegal search is inadmissible. The decision was
controversial as it mandated the decision making of what was admissible and
inadmissible in the hands of each court at all levels. In the long run, the Court was
faced with a variety of decisions that required them to struggle with the exclusionary
rule in the future.
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
Judiciary Act of 1789, Article XIII
The facts: In the last days of the John Adams administration, several judges were posted
but the incoming Jefferson administration did not fulfill those placements. William
Marbury, a judge slotted to be the justice of the peace in the District of Columbia, sued
for his position.
The question: Was Mr. Marbury entitled to his position and was a lawsuit the way to go
about it? Did the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction with the case?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Madison, 6 to 0. Chief Justice Marshall wrote
the opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that the law Mr. Marbury used to bring the
suit to the Supreme Court was unconstitutional and therefore, the lawsuit was invalid.
Additionally, Chief Justice Marshall explained that any law or action by the legislature
cannot run afoul of the U.S. Constitution as it represents the highest law of the land. The
case, one of the most important cases in American jurisprudence, established the Court’s
power to review and rule on the actions of the other branches of the government.
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 8, clauses 1 and 18
The facts: The state of Maryland passed taxes upon the state branch of the Second Bank of
the U.S.. James McCulloch, an employee of the Baltimore branch, refused to pay the tax.
The question: The case confronted two questions: did the Congress have the power to
create the bank (Congress chartered the bank in 1816) and did the state have the power to
interfere with the institutions of Congress?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of McCulloch, 9 to 0. Chief Justice Marshall wrote
the opinion for the Court. The Court declared that one, the Congress did have the power
to create a bank to help facilitate its constitutional duties as part of the elastic or necessary
and proper clause. Second, as a federal institution, the states did not have the power to
tax stating that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Based on this notion and the
constitutional idea of the supremacy of the federal government, the states have no
authority over federal institutions.
McDonald v. Chicago (2010)
Second and Fourteenth Amendments
The facts: In the wake of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), several challenges to
Chicago’s gun bans were brought forth. The aforementioned case ruled that the D.C.
handgun ban was in violation of the Second Amendment. The difference was that D.C. was
under federal authority and the current petitioner felt the law should also apply to the
The question: Does the Second Amendment apply to the states due to the Fourteenth
Amendment’s privileges and immunities as well as the due process clauses apply to the
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of McDonald, 5 to 4. Justice Alito wrote the opinion
for the Court. In reversing the 7th Circuit, the Court said that the Fourteenth Amendment
makes the Second Amendment applicable to all states. Justice Breyer argued there was
nothing in the Second Amendment or in subsequent interpretation that suggest it should
be included within the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore, afforded the protection of
the same. This case was seen as a large victory for gun advocates.
Miller v. California (1973)
First Amendment – Free Speech and Press
The facts: Marvin Miller was the operator of a large mail-order business that dealt in
pornography but at the time, labeled adult material. He was arrested by California
officials for violating California Penal Code 311.2 – a misdemeanor for distributing
The question: Does the California law violate Mr. Miller’s right of free speech and press?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of California, 5 to 4 in a per curiam decision. Chief
Justice Burger stated that local areas are better to establish the community standards
than a national entity such as the Supreme Court. However, Chief Justice Burger created
a litmus test for what constituted obscenity. Something can only be labeled obscene if
one, the average period, applying local community standards, would find it such. Two,
the work or deed displays sexual conduct in a purposefully offensive way. Three, “the
work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
However, the case remains controversial because of the extenuating circumstances that
could challenge the definitions set down by Chief Justice Burger such as the nature or
subject matter of the material that could cross any sensible line of free speech at the
sake of others.
Miranda v. Arizona (1966)
Fifth Amendment – Self-incrimination
The facts: This case is actually a composite of several cases in New York, California and
one other case dealing with federal agents where suspects were questioned and made
statements without being notified of their right to counsel. The namesake of this case
involved Ernesto Miranda, a 23-year old indigent in Arizona who was questioned and
compelled to make a statement without being notified of his right to counsel.
The question: Does the practice of questioning a suspect without counsel present
constitute a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Miranda, 5 to 4. Chief Justice Warren wrote
the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the First Amendment extends into the
confines of police custody. Secondly, due to the inherent intimidating and, as some
would see it, threatening confines of police custody, the suspect would more likely speak
in a way that could be falsely damaging to him unless counsel was there to advise. The
decision of the court was a shocking revelation to police forces and the Court’s decision
ultimately led to the requirement of investigating agencies to state the four basic rights
the accused has, now known as the Miranda warnings.
Near v. Minnesota (1931)
First Amendment – Free speech
The facts: Jay Near was the publisher of a newspaper in Minneapolis that routinely
charged local officials with corruption, graft and association with criminals and gangsters.
Local officials received an injunction to stop the publication stating local laws forbidding
the publishing of anything characterized as “obscene, lewd and lascivious” or “malicious,
scandalous and defamatory.” Mr. Near’s operation was shut down.
The question: Did the Minnesota law, a gag rule, violate the First Amendment’s free
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Near. The Court said that the actions of the state
was in clear violation of the First Amendment in this case. While there are a few extreme
circumstances where an abridgment of the free speech clause is appropriate, this is not
one of them. In short, even if the speech was criminal after its publication, the state could
not censor a publication in advance.
New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Fourth Amendment – Search and seizure
The facts: T.L.O. was a 14-year-old high school girl who was caught smoking in the girls’
room (cue Brownville Station) and a subsequent search revealed marijuana and other
The question: Did the search of T.L.O. constitute a violation of the Fourth and
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of New Jersey, 6 to 3. Justice White wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court said that the school could act on “reasonableness”
(a move away from the idea of “probable cause”) and that satisfied the perimeters of
the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The outward witness of the rolling paper
made for a reasonable suggestion that other illegal paraphernalia could be present.
New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
First Amendment – Speech and press
The facts: The New York Times published a full page ad that attacked the arrest of
Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama on the charges of perjury as part of a greater
conspiracy to hinder Dr. King’s efforts and goals to get more blacks registered to vote.
L.B. Sullivan, the Montgomery, Alabama city commissioner, sued the paper and the black
ministers who sponsored the ad for defaming himself, the city and its police force.
Under Alabama law, no harm had to be actually proven and Mr. Sullivan was awarded
The question: Did the Alabama libel law, by not requiring Mr. Sullivan to show actual
harm, violate the newspaper’s First Amendment rights of speech and press?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the New York Times, 9 to 0. Justice Brennan
wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court declared that the First Amendment protects
the paper, even if the charges were harmful or false, as long as they were not maliciously
and purposefully so.
Parker v. Gladden (1966)
The facts: Mr. Parker was convicted of second-degree murder. However, as the jury was
convening to decide the case, the bailiff charged with escorting the jury to their room
was overheard saying that Mr. Parker was guilty and he could not understand how a jury
could see it any other way. He further proclaimed that even if a jury found him innocent,
the Supreme Court would set the conviction straight.
The question: Did the bailiff’s actions violate Mr. Parker’s Sixth Amendment rights of a
jury and the right to confront his witnesses against him.
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Parker, 8 to 1 in a per curiam decision. The
Court decided the bailiff prevented the petitioner from receiving a fair and impartial trial
from the jury.
Penry v. Johnson (2001)
Fifth Amendment – Self-incrimination
The facts: In 1989, the case against Johnny Paul Penry for murder was considered by the Court and
it was determined that his initial conviction was done in violation of the Eighth Amendment because
the jury was told not to consider Mr. Penry’s mental retardation as a mitigating circumstance. Mr.
Penry was retried in 1990 and in this trial, a psychiatric evaluation was done and the judge did give
instructions to the jury about considering Mr. Penry’s mental ability. He was convicted again and
this time, Mr. Penry stated that the language of the evaluation was in violation of his Fifth
Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and that the judge’s instructions to the jury was not
The question: There were two questions to consider here. One, did the supplemental instructions
by the judge to the jury on Mr. Penry’s mental retardation constitutionally sufficient? Two, did the
language of the psychological evaluation based on an non-counseled meeting a violation of the Fifth
Amendment clause protecting a defendant from self-incrimination?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Penry, 6 to 3. Justice O’Connor wrote the opinion for the
majority. In short, the Court ruled “no” on both questions. The supplemental instructions were not
sufficient enough and indeed, much of the circumstances of the trial was staged to produce the
same results as the first trial. However, on the second question, the Court felt that the language of
the evaluation doubtfully had any impact on the jury’s deliberation or the verdict.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)
The facts: In 1989, the state of Pennsylvania amended its abortion laws to require that
informed consent and a 24-hour waiting period. If the mother was a minor, at least one
parent was required to approve (though the law allowed for a bypass of this
amendment) and for adult women, notification of the father was also required. A
federal appeals court upheld all elements of the changes with the exception of notifying
The question: Can a state required prior notification or consent (depending on the age)
and a waiting period without violating a woman’s right to an abortion guaranteed in Roe
v. Wade (1973).
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood, 5 to 4. Justices O’Connor,
Kennedy and Souter wrote the opinion for the majority. In a complicated ruling, the
Court created a new litmus test with regards to laws dealing with abortion which would
ask whether the law in question sought to create an “undue burden” by placing
substantial obstacles for one trying to get an abortion. The Court, in this case, felt only
the notification of the husband met this definition and was the only part ruled
unconstitutional by the Court.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Fourteenth Amendment – Equal protection clause
The facts: The state of Louisiana passed a law requiring separate rail cars for blacks and
whites. Homer Plessy, who was part white, bought a first class ticket and sat in the first
class section which was also a white only section. He refused to sit in the black car when
confronted and subsequently, was arrested.
The question: Does the Louisiana law violated the equal protection clause of the
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Ferguson, 7 to 1. Justice Brown wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that no infringement of the Fourteenth Amendment was
evident. The amendment was upheld as long as separate and equal facilities were available
for blacks (the phrase of “separate but equal” does not appear in the opinion). The Court
further explained that the Fourteenth Amendment did not mean to eliminate any evidence
of distinction on the basis of race so the Louisiana law does not equate to discrimination.
Powell v. Alabama (1932)
Fourteenth Amendment – Due process
The facts: A group of nine black young men were accused of raping two white women.
What followed was, what must be, the quickest exercise of state jurisprudence in the
history of Alabama or, likely, the United States. In one day, three trials were held, all nine
were convicted and sentenced to death. While the young boys did have counsel, they did
not consult with their clients and merely showed up for the hearings.
The question: Do the trails represent a violation of the Due process clause of the
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Powell. Justice Sutherland wrote the opinion for
the majority. The Court determined the young men did not receive their due process
with no time to secure counsel for their defense. While not referring to the Sixth
Amendment right-to-counsel provision, he evoked the idea often. This is one of the first
cases showcasing constitutional protection in the field of criminal justice.
Printz v. United States (1997)
Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act
The facts: In response to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill) which, in
part, required local law enforcement officers to perform background checks on those
wanting to buy weapons until the Attorney General could establish a federal agency for
that purpose. Sheriffs Jay Printz and Richard Mack independently challenged the
constitutionality of the background check. District court rulings on the two cases agreed
with the lawmen and since the provision could be separated from the rest of the law, the
backgrounds remained as a voluntary measure. The Court agreed to hear the cases
The question: Using the necessary and proper clause of Article I as justification, can
Congress compel, albeit temporarily, local law enforcement officers to regulate handgun
purchases by way of a background check?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Printz, 5 to 4. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for
the majority. The Court ruled that no, as previously stated, the federal government can not
dictate to the state legislatures. Additionally, the necessary and proper clause does not
work in this instance as the federal government cannot compel the states to perform the
former’s duties, even if only temporarily.
Rabe v. Washington (1972)
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Rabe, 9 to 0 in a per curiam decision.
Rasul v. Bush (2004)
28 U.S. Code 2241-2255 (habeas corpus)
The facts: Four British citizens and one Australian citizen was captured by the American
military during its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were taken to Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba and held at the American detention center. Their relatives sued in district
court that the men had not been granted any of their rights normally afforded the
accused in the U.S. including right to counsel and due process. The government argued
that the courts did not have authority over the men as they were not American citizens
and they were being held in a territory the U.S. did not control. Both the district court
and the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia sided with the government and
dismissed the case.
The question: Do U.S. courts have authority over foreign citizens held by the U.S.
military in Cuba?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Rasul, 6 to 3. Justice Stevens wrote the opinion
for the majority. Using precedent that dated back to English common law cases of the
17th-century, the Court declared the U.S. control over Guantanamo Bay sufficient enough
to allow for jurisdiction for the American courts. Secondly, the right of habeas corpus
was not reserved for only Americans so the families had the right to sue for it and to rule
on the detaining of their relatives.
Regents of the University of California
v. Bakke (1978)
The facts: Allan Bakke was a 35-year-old white male who, for two years, attempted to
enter the University of California Medical School in Davis. The university, in keeping with
an affirmative action program designed to reverse years of keeping minority students out,
reserved sixteen of its 100 annual seats for qualified minorities. In each of the two years
he applied, Mr. Bakke’s qualifications exceeded every minority student accepted. He sued
on the basis that he was denied solely on the basis of race.
The question: Did the California Medical School violate the Fourteenth Amendment and
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with its affirmative action program, as it relates to Mr. Bakke’s
The decision: The decision of the Court is a bit convoluted in this instance. At a ruling of 5
to 4 and in an opinion written by Justice Powell for the majority, the Court ruled in favor of
Bakke, ordering the university to accept him and criticizing any admissions based solely on
race. However, on a second issue, Justice Powell, sided with the other four justices that the
race of an applicant was admissible as one of several admission criteria. Therefore, Mr.
Bakke was admitted but the university’s admission policy was upheld as constitutional.
Reno v. ACLU (1997)
First Amendment – Speech and press
The facts: In the wake of the passage of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, several
petitioners challenged a provision designed to protect children from pornographic or
obscene information. Two parts of the act criminalized the transmission of any material
or information deemed obscene or indecent, as well as offensive as defined by
community standards. A district court enjoined the government from enforcing the
elements of the law save the portion about the protection against child pornography.
Attorney General Janet Reno asked the Court to address the constitutionality of the act.
The question: Was the act in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments due to its
vagueness and broad interpretation of what constituted a criminal act?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the ACLU, 9 to 0. Justice Stephens wrote the
opinion for the Court. The act’s failure to specify or define what it classified as criminal
makes it unconstitutional. The attorney general made no effort to explain, detail, specify
or expertly define the impact of such material or its reach as well as not showing that
such material was lacking of any social value.
Roe v. Wade (1973)
The facts: Jane Roe of Dallas County, Texas wanted to terminate a pregnancy but Texas
law forbade such a practice except in the case of the mother’s life being endangered. The
Court actually heard the arguments twice, with incompetence effecting Sarah
Weddington (Roe’s lawyer) and Jay Floyd (the lawyer for Dallas County District Attorney
Henry Wade). When the arguments were heard a second time, Ms. Weddington and new
Wade attorney Robert Flowers were able to make their case.
The question: Does the U.S. Constitution protect a woman’s right to have an abortion?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Roe, 7 to 2. Justice Blackmun wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that abortion was protected as a matter of privacy (an
idea recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut ) protected by the Fourteenth
Amendment. The decision gave women complete autonomy during the first trimester
and gave the states limited authority regarding the second and third trimester.
Romer v. Evans (1996)
Fourteenth Amendment – Equal Protection clause
The facts: The citizens of Colorado approved a second amendment to their state
constitution prohibiting any state government to protect people of discrimination on the
basis of sexual orientation, targeting gays, lesbians and bisexuals. The Colorado Supreme
Court enjoined the state from enforcing the amendment.
The question: Does the Second Amendment of the Colorado State Constitution, denying
protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Evans, 6 to 3. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled the Colorado Second Amendment was a violation of the
Fourteen Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. Justice Kennedy did not deny that such
action could withstand the Fourteenth Amendment clause if it promoted a general interest
of the state but this was not the case. He concluded, “If the constitutional conception of
'equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare
desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental
Roper v. Simmons (2005)
Eighth Amendment – Cruel and unusual punishment
The facts: Christopher Simmons was sentenced to die at 17 in a Missouri court in 1993 and the
appeals went through 2002, each rejected. In 2002, the Supreme Court heard Atkins v. Virginia
about the execution of a mentally ill person which the Court ruled unconstitutional as a violation of
the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. This compelled the Missouri Court to reconsider. Using the
case, the Missouri Court ruled that the Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling on Stanford v. Kentucky,
regarding the unconstitutionality of executing a minor because the majority of Americans did not see
it as cruel and unusual, was no longer valid because recent state decisions on the death penalty
would suggest the attitude of Americans on the issue had changed. Therefore, the execution of Mr.
Simmons would no longer be constitutional. The government said that a state court overturning a
Supreme Court decision sets a horrible and potentially dangerous precedent.
The question: Does the execution of minors violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the
Eighth Amendment and applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Simmons, 5 to 4. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the
majority. The Court agreed to a changing of public opinion of the execution of minors as it relates to
the cruel and unusual punishment clause and acknowledged that such punishment is
disproportionate to the crimes of minors. Amazingly, the Court also cited the “overwhelming”
opinion of the international community against such executions as a part of its reasoning.
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of
Western New York (1997)
First Amendment – Free speech
The facts: The case was filed by the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York (PCN) to
prevent demonstrations and blockades of abortion clinics by Paul Schenck and other like-
minded demonstrators. A restraining order proved ineffective so New York courts created
buffer zones of the clinic itself (fixed) as well as those seeking to access the clinic
(floating). Mr. Schenck objected to the actions against his First Amendment rights.
The question: Did the buffer zones violate Mr. Schenck’s First Amendment right to free
The decision: The Court ruled on two different issues relative the New York rulings. First,
the Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of PCN with regards to the fixed buffer zone around the
actual clinics. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the majority. The fixed buffer
zone still allowed the protestors close enough to get their ideas across and heard by those
people running and attending the clinic. However, the Court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of
Schenck against the floating buffer zones saying it caused undue restrictions to the First
Amendment rights of the protestors.
Schenck v. United States (1919)
First Amendment – Free speech
The facts: Upon the passing of the Conscription Act, Charles Schenck mailed flyers asking
people not to bend to intimidation and sign up for the military. He suggested that the war
was an evil and encouraged people to peacefully protest the conscription of draftees as a
protest against the war. Mr. Schenck was arrested for violating the Espionage Act for
attempting to create insubordination within the military ranks and hindering recruiting
The question: Was Mr. Schenck’s actions (as well as words and expressions) protected by
the First Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor the United States, 9 to 0. Justice Holmes wrote the
opinion for the Court. Justice Holmes wrote that the constitutionality of speech is largely
determined by the context in which it is spoken. In this case, were Mr. Schenck to have
uttered such things in peacetime, it would have been appropriate but during wartime,
when such speech could represent a “clear and present danger” that Congress is tasked to
prevent, then it is unconstitutional and not permissible.
Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966)
The facts: Samuel Sheppard was found guilty for the bludgeoning to death of his pregnant
wife. Upon his conviction, Mr. Sheppard claimed the judge did not do enough to prevent a
widespread and damaging reporting and characterization of his case and him that
occurred during his trail. While an Ohio district court supported his claim, the Sixth Circuit
Court of Appeals overturned the claim.
The question: Where is the line in which the setting of a court proceeding is so
acrimonious and prejudicial that it hinders a person’s Fifth Amendment right to a fair trail?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Sheppard, 8 to 1. Justice Clark wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that a combination of the rancor of Cleveland radio and
print media in conjunction with the layout of the courtroom which gave the prosecutor a
direct line of sight with the media created a hostile atmosphere and denied him a fair trial.
The Court suggested the judge should have either postponed the trial or moved to a
Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council v.
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (2002)
Fifth Amendment – Takings clause
The facts: The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) put a moratorium on
development of the Lake Tahoe Basin until a land-use plan could be created for the area.
The moratorium lasted for 32 months. However, several organizations, including the
Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council suggested the TRPA actions constituted a confiscation
of land without just compensation. The district court said that while the TRPA’s actions
did not constitute the taking of land, it did prevent any type of viable use of the land.
The Court of Appeals said that because the situation was temporary, it did not constitute
any taking of land.
The question: Did the actions of the TRPA constitute a taking of property without
compensation as detailed in the Fifth Amendment’s Takings clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of TRPA, 6 to 3. Justice Stevens wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that the actions of the TRPA did not constitute taking a
landowners’ property. Furthermore, the Court ruled that if such action should be
labeled as taking in the future, it would provide an undue strain on a city attempting to
organize land use.
Texas v. Johnson (1989)
First Amendment – Free speech and Assembly
The facts: In 1984, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag to protest the Reagan
administration in front of the Dallas City Hall. Mr. Johnson was arrested under a Texas law
forbidding desecration of the flag. He received a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. A Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision and then, went to the Supreme Court.
The question: Is the desecration of the flag a form of speech protected by the First
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Johnson, 5 to 4. Justice Brennan wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the burning of the American flag, while
offensive to many, was protected speech. Free speech cannot be limited to that speech
with which most agree.
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent
Community School District (1969)
First Amendment – Free speech
The facts: Three teenagers, including 15-year-old John and his 13-year-old sister Mary
Tinker, decided to follow their parent’s example of wear a black arm band to protest the
Viet Nam War. Fearing possible trouble as a result of the armband, the principals of the
Des Moines Independent Community School District announced that those wearing
armbands would be asked to take them off or face suspension. The three teenagers (the
three youts?) wore their armbands prior to the Christmas break, were told to take them
off, they refused and were then suspended until after New Year’s.
The question: Did the school’s policy on a ban on armbands constitute a violation of the
First Amendment and freedom of speech clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Tinker, 7 to 2. Justice Fortas wrote the opinion
for the majority. The Court ruled that, while schools have a limited freedom of expression,
the principals failed to show evidence of the potential trouble that the armbands would
cause were they to be worn in school. Because of this, the Court found the school in
United States v. Cruikshank (1876)
Fourteenth Amendment – Due process and Equal protection
The facts: After a disputed gubernatorial election in Reconstruction Louisiana, a group of
white men killed more than one hundred black men in what was later called the Colfax
Massacre. Three white men were found guilty of violating the Enforcement Act of 1870
which prevented any concerted effort to keep anyone else from exercising their
constitutional rights. The convicted appealed on the grounds their indictments were not
The question: Did the actions of the white mob constitute a violation of the Fourteenth
Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Cruikshank, 9 to 0. Justice Waite wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that while various protections are designed to be to
limit the actions of the federal and state governments, it did not apply to the limit of rights
by individuals and therefore, not unconstitutional. The Enforcement Act did not apply
because there was no evidence that race played a part in the killings. It represents a huge
step away by the Court from Reconstruction and subsequently, from protecting freed slaves
from angry whites.
United States v. Nixon (1974)
U.S. Constitution – Article II
The facts: Seven members of President Nixon’s advisors were indicted on crimes related
to the Watergate scandal and the special prosecutor asked for tapes the president kept of
conversations in the Oval Office. The president declared his tapes immune due to
“executive privilege.” This status protected the tapes from other government branches.
The question: Does the president right to executive privilege completely immune from
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the United States, 8 to 0. Chief Justice Burger
wrote the opinion for the Court. The chief justice declared that nothing constitutional
gave the president complete and incontrovertible immunity. The Court ordered the
president to hand over the tapes. The president did so but resigned shortly thereafter.
United States v. Oakland Cannabis
Buyers’ Coop (2001)
21 U.S. Code 801
The facts: The first of two cases (the other being Gonzales v. Raich in 2005) to be argued
before the Court regarding California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, this deals with the
Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Coop that was supplying marijuana for those prescribed it for
medicinal purposes. When their operation was shut down as a violation of the Controlled
Substances Act, the coop declared that there should be some exemption for medical
The question: Does a medical necessity exemption within the Controlled Substances Act
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the United States, 8 to 0. Justice Thomas wrote
the opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that no exemption exist because no medicinal
benefits have been deemed worthy enough to create such an exemption.
United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez
Fourth Amendment – Search and seizure
The facts: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in cooperation with the Mexican
police, arrested Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez on charges of several drug-related offenses.
The DEA secured permission from the Director General of the Mexican Federal Judicial
Police to search Mr. Verdugo-Urquidez’s home for additional evidence. However, no search
warrant was obtained by the DEA agents. At trial, Mr. Verdugo-Urquidez said the search of
his home was in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The question: Does the search and seizure of evidence by the DEA agents of the property
owned by a non-resident alien, located in a foreign country violate the Fourth
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the United States, 6 to 3. Chief Justice Rehnquist
wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment was
intended to apply only to those persons who are a part of the “national community.” Some
of the basic fundamental rights of the Constitution are not granted to residents of
unincorporated territories under U.S. control so to apply them to aliens with no connection
to the U.S. is not constitutional.
United States v. Virginia (1996)
Fourteenth Amendment – Equal protection clause
The facts: The Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a famed and historical institution, was the only male-
only educational facility in the state. The U.S. government felt that the exclusion of women was in
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause and sued VMI to include women
in its enrollment. VMI attempted to placate the government by creating a companion institution
(Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership or VWIL) as a compromise. The Fourth Circuit Court ruled
that while there were differences in the prestige of both institutions, they both would offer
comparable educational benefits.
The question: Does the creation of a separate women’s facility satisfy the criteria under the
Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of the United States, 7 to 1. Justice Ginsburg wrote the
opinion for the majority. There is an inherent disadvantage in the prestige and reputation of VMI in
comparison to VWIL and therefore, in no way could the two institutions be comparable. Ergo, it
does not meet the criteria of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. More
importantly, VMI failed to exhibit the inherent benefits and diversity to be gained from an all-male
institution. The Court’s decision said that all single-sex facilities must be prepared to make this
argument in order to remain constitutional.
U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995)
Article I, section 2, paragraph 1 – Composition of the House of Representatives
The facts: In 1992, Arkansas voters passed the Seventy-third Amendment to the state
constitution, requiring term limits for representatives and senators in the state and federal
The question: Can states change the qualifications of candidates to the U.S. Congress that
are expressly written in the U.S. Constitution?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Thornton, 5 to 4. Justice Stevens wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the Constitution does not allow states to add
or otherwise change the qualifications of potential members of Congress and furthermore,
they cannot alter the qualifications of state representatives if the intent is to hinder a
certain group of candidates . Being allowed to do could deteriorate the structure the
Framers attempted to create.
Vacco v. Quill (1997)
Fourteenth Amendment – Equal Protection clause
The facts: Dr. Timothy Quill and other doctors and several terminally ill patients
challenged the state of New York’s ban on physician-assisted suicide. The state upheld the
right of patients to refuse potentially life-saving treatment but categorically rebuffed the
idea of doctors helping in the suicide of a patient, even one terminally ill or in great pain.
The question: Does the New York ban violate the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing
patients to end their own lives but for those not able to, disallowing doctors to do it for
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Vacco, 9 to 0. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that the state of New York had vested interests in
protecting medical ethics as well as protection of the disabled or terminally ill and
promoting the importance of human life. While the Court acknowledged this is a difficult
issue, it drew a fine line between a patient choosing to end their life by refusing treatment
and a doctor assisting in the “suicide” of a patient. The latter crosses into a criminal realm
of “causation and intent.” No matter the nobility and good intentions of the doctor, he or
she cannot take part in the suicide of a patient.
Van Orden v. Perry (2005)
First Amendment – Establishment Clause
The facts: Thomas Van Orden sued Governor Rick Perry and the state of Texas for the
displaying of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol. Mr. Van Orden
said that monument violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Both a
district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Van Orden, saying
the monument served a secular purpose and would not constitute, to a reasonable
observer, a violation of the aforementioned clause.
The question: Did the monument of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state
capitol building constitute a violation of the Establishment clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Perry, 5 to 4. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the monument did not violate the
Establishment clause. Furthermore, it said that the Ten Commandments had an historical
relevance to the making and enforcement of laws that stood as a part of the foundation
of the United States. The Court further explained that though religious, the idea of
religious text or ideas related to religion do not necessarily run afoul of the Constitution.
Vernonia School District v. Acton
Fourth Amendment – Search and seizure
The facts: Chronologically, this is the first of two cases in this presentation on the legality
of urinalysis and high school students (Board of Education v. Earls in 2002). After
learning of the positive drug test results of several athletes and concerned that wide-
spread drug use to lead to greater injuries in sports, the Vernonia School District in
Oregon required random urinalysis of its athletes. One student, James Acton, was
denied participation in athletics because he and his parents refused consent for the drug
The question: Do the random urinalysis tests by a school district constitute a violation of
the reasonable search and seizure clause of the Fourth Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Vernonia School District, 6 to 3. Justice Scalia
wrote the opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that how reasonable a search is
depends on a balance between the violation of privacy and the furthering of government
interests. In this case, since the state is responsible for the students during the school
day, the students have a less privacy rights as a free adult. Additionally, given the
conditions of the drug test and the limited amount of people privy to such information,
the invasion of privacy in negligible.
Village of Skokie v. National Socialist
Party/Smith v. Collin (1978)
First Amendment – Free speech and assembly
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of National Socialist Party, 5 to 4 in a per curiam
Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)
First Amendment – Establishment clause
The facts: In accordance with an Alabama law, teachers were allowed to conduct
religious prayer services and activities during the school day. Ishmael Jaffree was the
parent of three students who attended the public schools in Mobile.
The question: Did the Alabama law violate the First Amendment’s Establishment clause?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Jaffree, 6 to 3. Justice Stevens wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court measured the constitutionality of the law by
deciphering any secular purpose to the statue. Once that could not be ascertained, the
Court ruled the actions of the state of Alabama as unconstitutional and tantamount to
promoting religion and violating the Establishment clause.
West Virginia State Board of Education
v. Barnette (1943)
First Amendment and WV Code § 1734
The facts: The West Virginia Board of Education that all teachers and students salute the
American flag and pay honor to it at the risk of being charged with insubordination and
punished with expulsion and delinquency.
The question: Does the compulsory salute and honor of the American flag by school
children a violation of the First Amendment?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Barnette, 6 to 3. Justice Jackson wrote the
opinion for the majority. Overturning its previous decision allowing for such activities in
Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the Court determined the policy was
unconstitutional. Force adherence to a single opinion or ideal was the anti-thesis of the
First Amendment. Justice Jackson wrote, “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional
constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in
politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
First Amendment – Free Exercise clause
The facts: Jonas Yoder, Wallace Miller and Adin Yutzy, members of two orders of the
Amish faith, were charged by the state of Wisconsin for refusing to send their children to
school until they were 16, a requirement of the state. The parents refused saying that
attendance to a high school violated their religious beliefs.
The question: Does the Wisconsin compulsory education until 16 law violate the First
Amendment by criminalizing those who don’t on religious grounds?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Yoder, 7 to 0. Chief Justice Burger wrote the
opinion for the Court. The Court ruled that a citizen’s right to their religious beliefs and
the practice thereof outweigh compulsory school attendance. Since such additional time
in school runs contradictory to the type of life mandated by the Amish faith, and since
the benefits of two additional years of school is not enough to justify the Wisconsin law,
it is unconstitutional in this case.
Wolf v. Colorado (1949)
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments
The facts: The Colorado Supreme Court upheld a series of convictions that was based
on evidence which would have been inadmissible if used in a federal court.
The question: Were the states required to rule inadmissible evidence illegally seized in
accordance to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments?
The decision: The Court ruled in favor of Colorado, 6 to 3. Justice Frankfurter wrote the
opinion for the majority. The Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment never
intended to create uniformed limitations and procedures as it relates to all cases, state
and federal. Civil measures and oversight were enough and can be done in lieu of the
exclusion of evidence to prevent unreasonable searches.