Supreme Court cases 1. Marbury v. Madison – 1803 - judicial review In March 1801, Secretary of State James Madison refused to give William Marbury a commission as a justice of the peace for Washington, DC, after the previous presidential administration had authorized the commission. Marbury sued under writ of mandamus to obtain his commission. The court’s decision, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, dismissed Marbury’s suit because he had sued under a writ of mandamus and the Constitution did not include such writs within its listing of the powers of the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus but claimed Marshall; Congress could not enlarge the powers of the Supreme Court. Therefore, Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. This case is significant because it is the first time the Supreme Court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional. The second did not occur until the Dred Scott case. 2. Fletcher v. Peck – 1810 – contracts & state laws This case was the first to declare a state law void as a violation of the Constitution. Influenced by bribes, the corrupt Georgia legislature sold land to speculators. The outraged public elected virtually a new legislature at the next election, and the new legislature rescinded the previous sale. The case involved the legality of the sale of a tract of land made before the second legislature rescinded the original transaction. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the decision. The Georgia legislature could not interfere with a lawfully executed contract. No matter how the original land speculators had obtained the land grant. Fletcher had made a legal, contractual purchase with which the legislature could not interfere. The contract clause of the Constitution overrode the state law. 3. Dartmouth College v. Woodward – 1819 – contracts & state laws In 1816 the state legislature of NH took over Dartmouth College. The board of trustees sued to regain control. Was the original charter granted in 1769 a contract within the meaning of the contract clause of the Constitution? The Supreme Court ruled that it was. The charter of a private corporation was protected by the Constitution and could not be altered by the people through their legislature. 4. McCulloch v. Maryland – 1819 – elastic clause & federal/state relations The state of Maryland levied a tax on the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States. The cashier refused to pay the tax. The case raised the question of the constitutionality of the 1791 act of Congress that created the bank, and the question of whether a state could tax the federal government. Marshall’s opinion supported the loose construction theory of the Constitution. “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.” The act of Congress creating the Bank was constitutional. In answering the second question the Court ruled that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Think of the logic of taxation. The annual tax on the Baltimore branch was $15,000. Once the principle of state taxation of the Bank was admitted, though, what is the difference, in principle between a $15,000 tax and a $483 billion dollar tax? A tax is a tax, but the second tax puts the bank into bankruptcy. Therefore, the Maryland tax was unconstitutional. 5. Gibbons v. Ogden – 1824 – Federal control of interstate commerce This is the first case decided under the commerce clause. Two steamboat operators clashed over their respective charters to control steamboats in New York City harbor. One had a charter from the federal government; the other had a monopoly grant from the state of NY. The decision affirmed exclusive federal control of interstate commerce even in the absence of federal legislation or action. 6. Cherokee Nation v. Georgia – 1831 – state laws, treaties, Indians 7. Worcester v. Georgia 1832 – see above These two cases are part of the long struggle by Georgia to push the Cherokee Indians westward. The federal government had much earlier promised to support Georgia’s efforts. The Cherokee tried to stop a Georgia declaration that the laws of the Cherokee were null and void. The Court ruled in the first case that while it lacked jurisdiction, the Cherokee Nation was a “domestic, dependent, nation” possessing some sovereignty, and not a foreign nation. In the second case Marshall ruled that the laws of Georgia had no force within the territorial boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. President Jackson, no admirer of Marshall, reportedly said, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” In this clear clash between state law and federal government, the president sided with the state of Georgia. 8. Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge – 1837 – contracts & community rights The Charles River Bridge Company sued to protect the state of MA from authorizing the construction of a new bridge across the Charles River. Was its original charter a contract, an implied, vested, perpetual agreement? Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, in his first significant decision, ruled that no charter granted to a private corporation permanently vested rights that might harm the public interest. Taney wrote, “the continued existence of a government would be of no great value, if by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation; and the functions it was designed to perform, transferred to the hands of privileged corporations.” The rights of the community supersede a broad interpretation of the private rights of a corporation. 9. Commonwealth v. Hunt – 1842 – union’s right to organize This MA decision ruled that trade union organization and strike tactics were legal. Traditional interpretations considered unions illegal under the conspiracy laws of English common law. This decision did not immediately open a new era for labor unions; many judges continued to consider unions to be illegal. 10. Prigg v. Pennsylvania – 1842 – fugitive slaves PA tried to prohibit the capture and return of runaway slaves within the state, a direct challenge to the federal government’s fugitive slave law of 1793. The state law was declared unconstitutional because the return of fugitive slaves was a federal power as specified in article IV of the Constitution. Many Northern states responded by prohibiting state officials from assisting anyone pursuing runaway slaves (called personal property laws). 11. Dred Scott v. Sandford – 1858 – citizenship & slaves This complex case raised three questions. 1) Was Dred Scott a citizen? If he wasn’t, he could not sue in a federal court. In other words, did the Supreme Court have jurisdiction to hear the case? 2) Could Congress exclude slavery from the territories? Since the territories were controlled by Congress, who exercised a responsibility to represent all the people of the United States, could Congress restrict citizens of one section form taking their slaves to the territories? 3) If slaves are property, is the owner not protected by the Fifth Amendment from being deprived of his property without compensation? Dred Scott was owned by an army doctor who took Scott into Illinois and part of Wisconsin territory. Slavery had been outlawed in these two areas by the Northwest Ordinance and Illinois law and by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott sued for his freedom based on the argument that residence on free soil made him a free man. That case quickly became a test case, with the doctor’s widow selling Scott to her brother, Sandford, in New York. The involvement of two different states forced the case into the federal courts. All the judges wrote separate opinions in the case, which caused the debate to go on long after the decisions. The majority held that Scott was not a citizen; free blacks or slaves could not be citizens of the United States. They could be granted state citizenship. (The 14th amendment clearly granted dual citizenship to abolish this aspect of the case.) The judges could have ended their explanation here, and they hoped to do so. Two Northern Supreme Court justices, however, announced their intention to write long dissenting opinions against the majority, and the majority was forced to refute the hostile dissents. But the majority itself was so divided in its reasoning that all the majority judges wrote separate opinions. In answering the other two questions the Taney court declared the Missouri Compromise null and void because it prohibited a citizen of the United States from taking his property (slaves) into the territories. Southerners smiled; Northerners bristled with contempt. Dred Scott’s owner freed him and his family. 12. Ex parte Milligan – 1866 – constitutional rights during the war Lambdin Milligan, a citizen of Indiana, was arrested for subversive activities in support of the Southern cause during the Civil War. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by a military court in Indiana in spite of the fact that the Indiana civilian court system was functioning. Milligan’s appeal to the Supreme Court raised the question of the dividing line between civil and military control over civilians during wartime. The Supreme Court ruled that while the Constitution permitted the suspension of habeas corpus, it did not suspend the judicial powers of federal courts. Military tribunals could be established, but when the federal courts were “open and ready” no other court could claim jurisdiction. Milligan sued for damages for false imprisonment and a jury awarded him five dollars. 13. Slaughterhouse cases – 1873 – privileges and immunities clause The three suits in the Slaughterhouse cases were the first under the Fourteenth Amendment. Both the majority opinion and dissenting opinions molded the interpretations of the 14th Amendment for decades. The Louisiana Reconstruction state government granted a monopoly to one corporation for butchering livestock in New Orleans, and put more than one thousand butchers out of business. The butchers claimed this act violated the 14th Amendment, abridging their “privileges and immunities” as citizens of the United States. In a 5-4 decision the Court ruled a sharp distinction between state privileges and rights and federal privileges and rights. The 14th Amendment protected only the latter; it offered no protection against state infringement. Most rights of citizenship are state, not national. The Court narrowly interpreted the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments as designed solely for freeing slaves and establishing citizenship rights for blacks. The dissenting opinions of two judges foreshadowed the future emphasis of the first clause of the 14th amendment. The due process and equal protection clauses became the heart of the amendment’s later interpretations, which made the guarantees of the Bill of Rights applicable to states. 14. In re Debs – 1895 – labor and injunctions During the Pullman Strike in 1894, the Pullman Company obtained an injunction under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. After refusing to comply, the union’s leader, Eugene V. Debs, was arrested for contempt of court. Debs’ writ of habeas corpus to the Supreme Court was denied on the basis of a broad interpretation of the commerce clause and the federal government’s obligation to deliver the mail. Justice Brewer wrote, “The strong arm of the national government may be put forth to brush away all obstructions to the freedom of interstate commerce or the transportation of the mails.” Critics and cynics wondered why “the strong arm of the national government” did not move as swiftly against monopolies. 15. Plessy v. Ferguson – 1896 – separate but equal One-eighth black, Homer Plessy was fined for refusing to leave a railroad car restricted to only whites. Louisiana state law required “separate but equal” facilities. The 14th Amendment ensured political equality, not social equality. “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If that be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” According to the Court, separate was not second class citizenship. The legislature could do only so much to ensure civil rights. “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.” In a stinging dissent Justice Harlan laid the foundation for the arguments that overturned the Plessy decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 1954. “Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is, therefore, to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached this conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.” 16. Insular Cases 1901-1904 – constitutional rights in the territories Three appeals to the Supreme Court raised questions concerning the extent to which constitutional rights were bestowed automatically upon natives in newly acquired territories. The Supreme Court slowly worked out a new judicial position for the Constitution. Some rights are fundamental and applied to all American territory. Other rights are procedural and should not be imposed upon those unfamiliar with American law. Congress must determine which procedural rights applied in unincorporated territories. 17. Muller v. Oregon – 1908 – due process & state police power This case is famous for the novel arguments presented by Louis Brandeis, who was later appointed to the Supreme Court. Oregon limited women to only ten hours of labor in factories and laundries. Curt Muller owned a laundry in Portland, and based on the Lochner decision he refused to comply with the new law. His appeal eventually reached the Supreme Court. In defense of the Oregon law, Brandeis presented only two pages of legal arguments and over one hundred pages detailing statistics and opinions from various commission reports on the adverse impact of long hours on the health of women. In an unanimous decision the Court accepted the economic and social arguments in the “Brandeis brief.” Brandeis argued that the law must come out of facts, not abstract logic. The majority opinion in Lochner cited the “common knowledge” that baking was not a difficult occupation. Brandeis undermined any potential opinion that the health of a nation’s female population was not a legitimate governmental concern. The Court found that “in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race…a woman’s physical structure, and the functions she performs in consequence thereof, justify special legislation restricting or qualifying the conditions under which she should be permitted to toil.” 18. Danbury Hatters’ Case – 1908 – Loewe v. Lawlor – antitrust & labor unions Unable to secure union recognition at the Danbury Hatters Company owned by Loewe and others, the hatters’ union instituted a boycott against the company’s hats. The unanimous Supreme Court decision held the boycott to be a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and required triple damages against the union for the amount of normal income lost due to the boycott. Labor unions were shocked. They found partial exemption from the antitrust laws in the Clayton Act. 19. Schenck v. US – 1919 – radicals and the First Amendment Schenck, an official of the Socialist party, was arrested and convicted for violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 because he and other socialists had distributed leaflets to draftees urging them to resist. On one side of the leaflet was a copy of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery or involuntary servitude. Schenck claimed he was protected by the First Amendment freedom of speech and press. The opinion by the unanimous Court announced Justice Holmes’s “clear and present danger” test. Every act must be judged according to the circumstances. No freedom is absolute; First Amendment questions were a matter of “proximity and degree,” and the nation was at war. He included his often-quoted remark that “freedom of speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” 20. Abrams v. US – 1919 – radicals and the First Amendment The Abrams case involved the Sedition Act of 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917. Five Russian immigrants were convicted for distributing antiwar propaganda. Justice Holmes, who wrote the opinion in the Schenck case, dissented from the 7-2 decision. Holmes recognized that the “United States constitutionally may punish speech that produced or is intended to produce a clear and imminent danger that will bring about forthwith certain substantive evils that the United States constitutionally may seek to prevent. The power undoubtedly is greater in time of war than in time of peace because war opens dangers that do not exist at other times.” In a brilliant plea for freedom of speech and press he wrote, “when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they come to believe even more than they believe the foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.” 21. Schecter Poultry Corp v. US – 1935 – constitutionality of New Deal programs This “Sick Chicken Case” unanimously found the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional. Under the act the NRA was directed to establish codes for each industry in partnership with industries and unions. If the industry did not establish its code, the NRA could impose one. This last feature of the law violated the Constitution because it granted legislative powers to the executive branch. The act also exceeded the government’s interstate commerce authority by attempting to regulate the killing of chickens for market, which the Court found to be an intrastate activity. Chief Justice Hughes rejected the argument that a national emergency justified the NRA. 22. NLRB v. Jones and Laughlin Steel Corp – 1937-interstate commerce, control of labor Many students mistakenly believe that most bitter strikes involve wage demands. The most disruptive strikes have actually involved union recognition, the industry’s acquiescence in the union’s right to represent the workers and to engage in collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Board was established to supervise and conduct elections for workers deciding upon union representation. In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Wagner Act creating the NLRB. The Court broadly defined commerce, asserting Congress’s right to legislate broadly in the “stream of commerce” because commerce was more than mere transportation. 23. Korematsu v. US – 1944 – war powers and civilians Korematsu was arrested and convicted for noncompliance with the military order that moved all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast into relocation centers after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Court upheld the action in a 6-3 decision based upon a broad interpretation of the nation’s war powers. Fred Korematsu had tried to enlist in the army, but was rejected because of ulcers. He then spent his entire life savings of $150 to learn welding to help the war effort. Instead he was arrested. 24. Brown v. Board of Education – 1954 – segregation In 1951, Oliver Brown filed suit on behalf of his daughter, Linda, who was abused to a black school over twenty blocks away. Another elementary school for whites only was five blocks away. Three other cases – from South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware – were also filed at this time. This is one of the most significant cases ever decided by the Supreme Court. Recognizing the impact of this case, the Court entertained arguments from all quarters. Fifty-one “friends of the court” briefs were filed along with those involved in the case. The majority opinion, 8-0, relied heavily on sociological and psychological factors as well as legal arguments. Segregation had to end. “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The Court did not order immediate compliance, but instead directed the lower courts to implement compliance, but instead directed lower courts to implement the order “with all deliberate speed.” This speed was lacking for a number of years. 25. Gideon v. Wainwright – 1963 – right to a lawyer Gideon was arrested in 1961 for breaking into a pool room. He asked for a court-appointed lawyer because he could not afford one. Florida law provided lawyers for penniless defendants only in capital crimes, which carried a possible death penalty. The Supreme Court decided that legal counsel must be provided for all persons charged with a felony. In 1972 the Court extended the right to counsel to anyone charged with misdemeanors, a lesser category of crimes, in a decision in regard to Jon Argersinger, another Floridian. Argersinger was sentenced to 90 days in jail for carrying a concealed weapon. 26. Miranda v. Arizona – 1966 – rights of the accused The Miranda decision culminated the 1960s trend toward protecting the rights of the accused. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court stated that an arrested person must be told that he has the right to remain silent; that whatever he says may be used against him; that he has the right to be represented by a lawyer; that if he cannot afford a lawyer one will be provided; and finally, that he is permitted one telephone call to obtain a lawyer or contact someone to make arrangements for him to arrange for a lawyer and bail proceedings. The Supreme Court justices were heavily criticized for coddling criminals. In a rare comment before a convention of chiefs of police, one justice stated that in America it is supposed to be difficult to arrest and convict someone. 27. Engle v. Vitale – 1962 – religion in public schools Struck down prayer composed by the New York State Board of Regents, the state public education authority. Later cases ended the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer and the daily reading of ten Bible verses. The Court held that under the Constitution religion is “too personal, too sacred, too holy” for governmental sanction. Religion is a personal matter; government is a public matter. 28. Baker v. Carr – 1962 – legislative reapportionment Beginning with the Baker case, the Supreme Court ended the old practice of apportioning legislative districts to overrepresent rural areas. The boundary lines for both houses of the state legislatures and for congressional districts must reflect the principle of “one man, one vote” as much as possible. Before the Baker case, federal courts avoided reapportionment arguments as “political questions” to be resolved by the legislatures and the voters. 29. Bakke v. Board of Regents – 1978 – reverse discrimination This reverse discrimination case involved a claim by a white, Allan Bakke, that he was the victim of discrimination. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibited discrimination based on race, but in order to compensate for the collective results of previous discrimination practices, the University of California at Davis reserved sixteen of its hundred openings for medical school specifically for non-whites. Objective scores and measurements of Bakke’s potential put him outside the 84 slots for whites, but higher than the successful applicants for the sixteen non-white positions. In a 5-4 decision the Court upheld both Bakke’s admission and the university’s use of race to ensure a diverse student body. 30. Roe v. Wade – 1973 – abortion rights (also Doe v. Bolton) These two cases struck down Texas and Georgia state statutes prohibiting abortions. The Court found such laws to be an infringement on rights to privacy protected by the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court limited state legislation by defining three stages of pregnancy and specifying when and which state restrictions were legal. These two cases illustrate a weakness within our political system. Our political system works because it facilitates compromises at many different levels before a policy decision is actually rendered. When the issue involved is a moral issue – abortion or slavery – compromise become difficult, if not impossible. Moral right and wrong leave no middle ground for compromise. Half right is the same as half-sinful; something is either sinful or it is not, especially to those who know that they are morally in the right. Our political system does not handle deeply felt moral issues well.