The Supreme Court Landmark Decisions
The following is NOT in any way a complete discussion of ALL the important cases that the Supreme Court has decided. It is just a sample of SOME of the important or interesting ones
Facts • Lame Duck Pres. John Adams appoints numerous new federal judges, all members of the Federalist Party • Adams instructs Sec. of State John Marshall to deliver the appointments • William Marbury was one of those who were to get the appointment • Marshall does not deliver all the appointments before leaving office
New Pres. Jefferson instructs new Sec. of State Madison NOT to deliver them • Marbury sues Madison in the S.C. citing Congress’ Judiciary Act of 1789 allows him to have the appointment
Constitutional Question • Did the SC have original jurisdiction to hear Marbury v. Madison? • Was the Judiciary Act of 1789 Constitutional?
The Court’s Decision • Yes the SC has jurisdiction under Article 3 of the Constitution • Part of the Judiciary Act of 1789 is UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Impact, Why do we care? • This was the first time the SC found a law of Congress to be unconstitutional • It established the concept of JUDICIAL REVIEW – the power of the SC to nullify laws in conflict with the Constitution • The decision has been crucial in the checks and balances system
Interesting Twist • Chief Justice John Marshall was very influential in this decisions and authored the Majority Opinion • Yes, the same John Marshall who, as Sec. of State, did not deliver the appointment to Marbury in the first place • Marbury never gets his appointment as Federal Judge.
Facts • Dred Scott was a slave in the antebellum South. • Between 1833-1843 (approx.) Scott lived with his owner in “free territory” (Illinois and Wisconsin). • Scott’s owner dies and he is returned to the south where the owner’s widow sells him to a new owner.
Dred Scott sues in Missouri State court to win his freedom claiming that his extended stay in free territory made him a free man. • After numerous conflicting decisions and appeals, ends up in the US Supreme Court.
Constitutional Question • Did Dred Scott have the social standing to sue through the US Court system? • Did living in free territory (as defined by the 1820 Missouri Compromise) automatically give him freedom?
Decision • Slaves or freed slaves are not citizens. • Since Scott was not a citizen, he had no right to sue anybody in court. • Furthermore, the SC found the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional. The federal government has not authority to tell States/Territories if they are free or slave.
Impact! Why do we care? • The tragically poor decision in Dred Scott helped to propel the US into Civil War. • With no 1820 Comp. law, Slavery could theoretically exist anywhere in new territories. • The Scott decision made clear the need for an eventual 14th and 15th Amendment.
After Thoughts • The circumstance of the Scott took decades to develop and resolve. • The son of Scott’s original owner had been a long term friend. After the case, the man paid for Scott’s freedom (and that of his wife). • Scott died nine months after becoming free.
Facts • Dec. 1965 Des Moines Iowa • John & Mary Beth Tinker and some friends decide to wear black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. • School district heard about it and told them they could not do that. • The students decided to violate the rule and wore the armbands anyway.
The students were suspended. • Parents filed suit in US District Court claiming that the student’s 1st Amend. free speech rights had been violated. • Court finds in favor of the School District and the case is appealed to the Sup. Ct.
Constitutional Question • Are students forced to leave their free speech rights behind when they enter school?
Court’s Decision • In THIS situation, the school did violate the free speech rights of the students. • Students not forced to give up their 1st Amend. rights when they enter school • HOWEVER. Schools do have the right to limit those rights when there is a potential for a disruption of the learning environment or safety issues.
Schools must be able to demonstrate some FORESEEABLE harm in the 1st Amend. Expression. • The SC found that there was no foreseeable harm in this silent protest.
Impact. Why do we care? • The Tinker case is still used today to determine whether or not a school’s disciplinary actions violate student’s 1st Amend. rights.
Facts • Homer Plessy was a successful Louisiana businessman • Plessy had one African-American grandparent • He was comfortable with both racial groups but never really considered himself to be African-American
Took the train every day, one day he was asked by the conductor to move to the “segregated” car • Plessy refused and was arrested and charged for violation of State law
Constitutional Question • Was Louisiana's State law requiring segregated seating on public transportation a violation of the 14th Amend. requiring equal protection of the law for all citizens?
Court’s Decision • Since Louisiana did provide equal (but separate) access to public transportation, their was no violation of the 14th Amend and no violation of equal protection under the law
Impact. Why do we care? • The Plessy decision validated the concept of “separate but equal” making segregation allowable for any state wishing to adopt that law • Another 60+ years of segregation, Jim Crow laws and denial of African-American rights
Some important terms are appropriate here! • De Jure Segregation – Segregation by law and punishable by law for violation • Example: Jim Crow laws • De Facto Segregation – Segregation by fact, even though no law requires it • Example: Parts of cities having nearly all African-American (or all white) residents or schools that are nearly all African-American (or all white)
Facts • Case surrounds 8 year old African-American child named Linda Brown • Family moved into a home in Topeka KA only 5 blocks from the nearest school • School was segregated for white children only • Linda was assigned to a school for black children 21 blocks away
Linda’s parents sued the Topeka school district citing 14th amend. Violation • Same argument that Plessy had made 50 years earlier
Constitutional Question • In schools, does the very fact of separation create an unequal education? • Does segregation violate the 14th amendment?
Decision of the Court • Unanimous decision • Segregation is a violation of equal protection of the law under the 14th Amend • To separate children in school solely based on race creates a feeling of inferiority and is therefore unequal • Plessy decision is reversed and school segregation is banned
Showdown in Little Rock Arkansas • Due to the Brown decision, President Eisenhower orders schools to desegregate • Arkansas Gov. Faubus refuses, stands on the steps of Central HS in defiance • Gov. Faubus orders AR national guard to block the entry of black students • President Eisenhower sends troops from the 101st Airborn to personally escort the students into Central HS
Sept. 25 1957, the “Little Rock Nine” enter school under armed escort. The battle for civil rights and desegregation begins
Immediately after, MLK runs the Montgomery Bus Boycott and begins his civil rights crusade
The civil rights era was off and running. Obviously, the decisions of the Supreme Court can have a profound impact on our society!!
Facts • 1984 – Gregory Lee Johnson burns an American flag in front of city hall in Dallas Texas • He was protesting the policies of President Ronald Regan • Johnson was tried and convicted under Texas law prohibiting desecration of the American flag
One year in jail + $2,000 fine • Johnson appealed the decision claiming that his 1st amend. rights of free speech had been violated
Constitutional Question • Is burning or other desecration of the American flag a form of free speech that is protected under the 1st amendment?
Decision of the Court • The Sup. Ct. found in favor of Johnson • The fact that a large portion of society may find an act or idea offensive does not justify the limitation of free speech
Impact – Way do we care? • Democracy and living in a free society is sometimes difficult, you have to want it bad • To live in a free society, we must accept that others may have ideas that we disagree with but must respect the right to express those ideas