Social Studies Help Center
Social Studies help for American History, Economics and AP Government. There are class notes, numerous Supreme Court case summaries and information on how to write a research paper inside.

Historic Supreme Court Cases

Cases with an asteriks next to them are cases involving educational law and the schools.

See citation for source information.

Judicial Power

Marbury v Madison

On the eve of his last day in office outgoing President John Adams, a Federalist, appoints 82 Federalist justices. These "midnight judges" as they were called represented a threat to incoming President Thomas Jerreson, a Democrat-Republican. Jefferson feared Federalist interpretation of the law for the next 20 years, a fear that ended up coming to fruition. Among these midnight judges was one William Marbury. Jefferson ordered his Secretary of State, John Madison, not to deliver the official documents granting Marbury his position. Based upon the Judiciary Act of 1801 Marbury appealed directly to the Supreme Court asking for a "writ of mandamus" or an order to act.

Chief Justice John Mashall recognized he would be correct in ordering Madison to deliver the papers but feared weakening the image of the Court if President Jefferson refused to comply. Instead Marshall ruled that the Judiciary Act of 1801, which Marbury had used to submit his claim directly to the Court wa s unconstitional, and it was. In this way the Court was able to rule a law unconstitutional and thus created the important precedent of judicial review.


Baker v. Carr (1962)

Allowed federal courts to hear challenges to demarcation of voting districts and to require them to have more nearly equal populations. The case began in Tennessee, which had not redrawn state legislative districts for about 60 years, even as millions moved out of rural districts and into cities. The decision broke the rural lock on political power and gave urban voters more nearly equivalent representation.

Contract Law

Fletcher vs. Peck (1810)


A new state administration had passed a law voiding a land grant made by the previous administration. When the landowners sued, Marshall ruled that the contract had to stand. Article I, Sect 10 of the Constitution forbid state laws “impairing” contracts. Thus the contract law was created making written contracts legal and binding.


Dartmouth College vs. Woodward (1819)

Expanded the principle of the Fletcher decision to include contracts between corporations and states. Previously it had been believed that states could disregard contracts held with private enterprise. As more business corporations were established around the country, this ruling became very important.

Seperation of Powers / Federalism

Gibbons v Ogden

Ogden held a New York State license allowing him to operate a ferry across the Hudson between New York and New Jersey. Gibbons recieved a Federal license and claimed that his license superceded that of Ogden.

The court ruled that Gibbon's federal license took precedence over that of Ogden because the federal government was given the power to reglate interstate trade.


McCulloch v Maryland

Angered by the existence of the new Federal bank, the state of Maryland decided to tax the bank. McCulloch, a cashier for the bank refused to pay the tax claiming that a state had no power or right to tax the federal government.

The Supreme Court affirmed McCulloch's position. This precedent established the superiority of the federal government.


Munn v. Illinois (1877)

In the case Munn v. Illinois (1877) Midwestern farmers felt that they were being victimized by the exorbitant freight rates they were forced to pay to the powerful railroad companies. As a result, the state of Illinois passed a law that allowed the state to fix maximum rates that railroads and grain elevator companies could charge.

The Supreme Court of the United States upheldthe Illinois law because the movement end storage of grain were considered to be closely related to public interest. This type of economic activity could be governed by state legislatures, whereas purely private contracts could only be governed by the courts. The Court held that laws affecting public interest could be made or charged by state legislatures without interference from the courts. The Court said, "For protection against abuse by legislatures, the people must resort to the polls, not the courts."


Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway Co. v. Illinois (1886)

An Illinois statute imposed a penalty on railroads that charged the same or more money for passengers or freight shipped for shorter distances than for longer distances. The railroad in this case charged more for goods shipped from Gilman, Illinois, to New York, than from Peoria, Illinois, to New York, when Gilman was eighty­six miles closer to New York than Peoria. The intent of the statute was to avoid discrimination against small towns not served by competing railroad lines and was applied to the intrastate (within one state) portion of an interstate (two or more states) journey. At issue was whether a state government has the power to regulate railroad prices on that portion of an interstate journey that lies within its borders.

The Supreme Court of the United States held the Illinois statute to be invalid and that the power to regulate interstate railroad rates is a federal power which belongs exclusively to Congress and, therefore, cannot be exercised by individual states. The Court said the right of continuous transportation from one end of the country to the other is essential and that states should not be permitted to impose restraints on the freedom of commerce. In this decision, the Court gave great strength to the commerce clause of the Constitution by saying that states cannot impose regulations concerning price, compensation, taxation, or any other restrictive regulation interfering with or seriously affecting interstate commerce. [One year after Wabash, Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). This commission had the power to regulate interstate commerce.]


Freedom of Speech

Schenck v United States (1919)

Charles Schenck was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, passed by Congress in 1917. The Espionage Act made it illegal to defame the government or do anything that might retard the war effort. Schenck, a member of the Socialist Party, opposed the war and printed and distributed pamphlets urging citizens to oppose the draft which he likened to slavery. Schenck claimed his first amendment rights were violated.

The court ruled against Schenck saying that the Espionage Act did not violate the first amendment and that in times of war the government may place reasonable limitations on freedom of speech. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes outlined the courts opinion by explaining that when a "clear and present danger" existed such as shouting fire in a crowded theater, freedom of speech may be limited.


Gitlow v. New York (1925)

Benjamin Gitlow had been a prominent member of the Socialist party during the 1920s. He was arrested and convicted for violating the New York Criminal Anarchy Law of 1902, which made it a crime to attempt to foster the violent overthrow of government. Gitlow's publication and circulation of sixteen thousand copies of the Left-Wing Manifesto violated this Criminal Anarchy Act. The pamphlet went on to advocate the creation of a socialist system through the use of massive strikes and "class any form." Gitlow was tried and convicted. He appealed the decision, arguing that his First Amendment right to freedoms of speech and press was violated. Although the New York courts held that the Communists must be held accountable for the results of their propaganda, the Supreme Court , in a 7-2 vote , ruled in favor of Gitlow. It stated in its decision that "for present purposes, we may assume that freedom of speech and of press...are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the State." (Source - PATCH - See link below)


Debs v. United States (1919)

Eugene V. Debs, a well known socialist, gave a public speech to an assembly of people in Canton, Ohio. The speech was about the growth of socialism and contained statements which were intended to interfere with recruiting and advocated insubordination, disloyalty, and mutiny in the armed forces. Debs was arrested and charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. At issue was whether the United States violated the right of freedom of speech given to Debs in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the lower court's decision in favor of the United States. The Court said that Debs had actually planned to discourage people from enlisting in the Armed Forces. The Court refused to grant him protection under the First Amendment freedom of speech clause, stating that Debs "used words [in his speech] with the purpose of obstructing the recruiting service." Debs' conviction under the Espionage Act would stand, because his speech represented a "clear and present danger" to the safety of the United States. (Source - PATCH - See link below)


Schecter Poultry Corp. v The United States (1933)

Schecter Poultry was alleged by the NIRA (a New Deal program set up by FDR)to have sold unfit chicken to a butcher. Schecter and the butcher are both based in Brooklyn New York. Schecter did no out of state business. Schecter Poultry Co. was charged by the federal government which argued that under the National Industrial Recovery Act Schecter Poultry can be regulated by the federal government which under the NRA set up codes in cooperation with various industries that set prices ranges, set up minimum wages and maximum hours, abolished child labor and recognized the rights of unions to organize. Schecter Poultry argued that the NIRA was unconstitutional because the federal government had no right to regulate intrastate trade.

The Supreme Court citing Gibbons v Ogden as the precedent reversed the lower courts decision in Schecter and struck down the NIRA as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court thus said reaffirmed the fact that the federal government may not regulate intrastate trade only interstate trade.

The NIRA was replaced with National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, which created the NLRB, set fair work standards and with the Fair Labor Standards Act, passing the first minimum wage per hour, 20 cents, maximum work week, 44 then 40 hours, and banned 16 year olds and younger from factory jobs.


United States v Butler (1933)

Suit was brought by Butler in an attempt to have the Agricultural Adjustment Act declared unconstitutional. The federal government, which had done little in the 1920s to help farmers, initiated remedial programs with the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 which provided payments to farmers in return for agreements to curtail their acreage or their production of wheat, cotton, rice, tobacco, corn, hogs, and dairy products. Payments were financed from taxes imposed on processors and these taxes were then sent directly to farmers as reimbursement NOT to grow food. Butler, a processor, refused to pay the tax and the Federal government brought suit against him. In his defense Butler claimed that tax may not be used to transfer wealth directly from one person to another.

The Supreme Court agreed with Butler and struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. The next year Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1934 which taxed processors and then placed the money into the governments general fund. Then farmers were paid out of the general fund not to grow food. The laws had the same effect, its just that the later version was done legally.


 Dennis v. United States (1951)

Eugene Dennis was a leader of the Communist Party in the United States between 1945 and 1948. He was arrested in New York for violation of Section 3 of the "Smith Act." The Act prohibited advocation of the overthrow of the United States Government by force and violence. The government felt that the speeches made by Dennis presented a threat to national security. Dennis appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States, claiming that the Smith Act violated his First Amendment right to Free Speech. At issue was whether the Smith Act violated the First Amendment provision for freedom of speech or the Fifth Amendment due process clause.

The Court found that the Smith Act did not violate Dennis' First Amendment right to free speech. Although free speech is a guaranteed right, itis not unlimited. The right to free speech may be lifted if the speech presents a clear and present danger to overthrow any government in the United States by force or violence. Since the speech made by Dennis advocated his position that the government should be overthrown, it represented a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. (Source - PATCH - See link below)

Yates v. United States (1957)

In 1951, fourteen persons were charged with violating the Smith Act for being members of the Communist Party in California. The Smith Act made it unlawful to advocate or organize the destruction or overthrow of any government in the United States by force. Yates claimed that his party was engaged in passive actions and that any violation of the Smith Act must involve active attempts to overthrow the government.

At issue was whether Yates' First Amendment right to freedom of speech protected his advocating the forceful overthrow of the government. The Supreme Court of the United States said that for the Smith Act to be violated, people must be encouraged to do something, rather than merely to believe in something. The Court drew a distinction between a statement of an idea and the advocacy that a certain action be taken. The Court ruled that the Smith Act did not prohibit "advocacy of forcible overthrow of the government as an abstract doctrine." The convictions of the indicted members were reversed. (Source - PATCH - See link below)


*Tinker v Des Moines (1969)

Several students and parents in Des Moines organized a protest of the Vietnam war. Students were to wear black arm bands to school in protest. When the school found out they warned all the students and parents that anyone wearing the armbands would be would be suspended. The Tinker children wore their armbands to school (they were the only ones of the group to do so) and were suspended. Mr and Mrs. Tinker filed suit claiming that the school violated the children's right to freedom of speech and expression. The school claimed that the armbands were disruptive.

The court ruled against the school district saying that "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates. In doing so the court protected what has come to be known as "symbolic speech."


*Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) - Censorship Case

The Board of Education of the Island Trees School District in New York directed the removal of nine books from the libraries of the Island Trees senior and junior high schools because in the Board's opinion the books were "anti­American, anti­Christian, anti­Semitic, and just plain filthy." Some books included were: The Fixer, Soulon Ice, Slaughterhouse Five, Go AskAlice, The Best Stories by Negro Writers, and others. Four students from the high school and one from the junior high school sued the school district, claiming that the removal of the books was a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the students, saying that the books were not required reading. According to Justice Brennan, who cited West Virginia Board of Education v. Bamette, 319 U.S.624 (1943), "Local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in these books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." He also cited Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S.503 (1969), saying that high school students have First Amendment rights in the classroom. Although the schools have a right to determine the content of their libraries, they may not interfere with a student's right to learn. Therefore, the schools may not control their libraries in a manner that results in a narrow, partisan view of certain matters of opinion. The Court stood against the removal or suppression of ideas in schools.


*Bethel School District v Fraser (1986)

Matthew Fraser, a high school student in Bethel, Washington, delivered a speech nominating a fellow student for a student elective office. The speech was made during school hours as a part of a school-sponsored educational program in self-government. The voluntary assembly was attended by about 600 students, many of whom were 14-year-olds. Throughout the speech, the student deliberately referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate and explicit sexual metaphor. The reactions of the students varied from enthusiastic hooting and yelling to embarrassment and bewilderment. Before the speech, the student had discussed it with several teachers, and two teachers told him they thought it was not appropriate. The student was suspended for three days for having violated the school's "disruptive conduct" rule, which prohibited conduct that substantially interfered with the educational process, including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the school board acted entirely within its permissible authority in punishing Fraser for "his offensively lewd and indecent speech." This was not a situation where Fraser was sanctioned for expressing a political viewpoint as in the Tinker "armband" case; the sexual innuendo was incidental to the merits of the candidate who was being nominated. "It is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse . . . Schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order."

The Court repeated its recognition of an interest in protecting minors from exposure to vulgar and offensive spoken language. Even in a heated political discourse among adults, the Court emphasized the need for consideration for the personal sensibilities of the audience. "A high school assembly or classroom is no place for a sexually explicit monologue directed towards an unsuspecting audience of teenage students." The Court also stated that the school regulation and the negative reactions of two teachers gave Fraser sufficient notice that his speech might result in his suspension.


Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Outside the Republican National Convention in Dallas, a protest of Ronald Reagan's policies had been organized, during which a United States flag was burned. Johnson, the man responsible for the flag burning, was arrested under Texas law, which made the desecration of the United States or Texas flags crimes. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail and a two thousand dollar fine. Texas reasoned that the police were preventing the breach of peace that would be erupt due to the flagburning, and preserving the integrity of the flag as a symbol of national unity.

Johnson's conviction was overturned by theSupreme Court of Texas, which ruled that this mode of self-expression was protected under the First Amendment to theConstitution. The Supreme Court upheld this ruling, stating the flag burning was "expressive conduct" because it was an attemptto "convey a particularized message."

State Rights v. Students' Due Process

*Goss v. Lopez (1975)

Several public high school students (including D. Lopez) were suspended from school for misconduct but were not given a hearing immediately before or after their suspension. School authorities in Columbus, Ohio, claimed that a state law allowed them to suspend students for up to ten days without a hearing. The students brought a legal action, claiming that the statute was unconstitutional because it allowed school authorities to deprive students of their right to a hearing, violating the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The issue was whether the suspension of a student for a period of up to ten days without a hearing constitutes a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court of the United States said that education is a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause and any suspension requires prior notice and a hearing. Permitting suspension without a hearing is, therefore, unconstitutional. The Court said that oral or written notice of the charges brought against a student must be given to the student who is being suspended for more than a trivial period. If he denies the charges, the student must be given a hearing. The hearing may be an informal one where the student is simply given an explanation of the evidence against him and an opportunity to tell his side of the story. (Source - PATCH - See link below)

Right To Privacy

Roe v Wade (1973)

Norma McCorvey, a citizen of Texas, was pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. Texas state laws (and most other states) made abortion illegal in that state. Suing under the name Jane Roe she claimed that the state of Texas violated her right to privacy by prohibiting the abortion and telling her what to do with her own body. The state argued that abortion was murder and that there was a compelling state interest in protecting the life of the unborn child.

In this landmark decision the Court declared that laws prohibiting abortion represented a violation of a women's right to privacy. While the right to privacy does to exist as such in the Constitution it has long been interpreted to exist as an umbrella created by the first 5 amendments in the Bill of Rights. By creating this precedent abortion became legal in all 50 states.

Presidential Priviledge/Seperation of powers

United States v. Nixon - (1972)

In the late 1970's, the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C., was broken into. The investigation that followed centered on staff members of then Republican President Richard M. Nixon. The Special Prosecutor subpoenaed certain tapes and documents of specific meetings held in the White House. The President's lawyer sought to deny the subpoena. The Special Prosecutor asked the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case before the lower appeals court ruled on the President's appeal to deny the subpoena.

By an 8­0 vote, the Court decided that President Nixon must hand over the specific tapes and documents to the Special Prosecutor. Presidential power is not above the law. It cannot protect evidence that may be used in a criminal trial.


Ex Parte Milligan - 1866

During the Civil War, with civil liberties in the North being constricted, officials of the United States arrested several antiwar Democrats in Indiana. The president feared the weak support for the war in Indiana would lead to an acquittal by an Indiana jury. Therefore, the politicians were not given a trial by jury, but rather were held as military prisoners and convicted. One of the defendents, Milligan, appealed. The Supreme Court, in a 9 - 0 vote, found in favor of the defendants, stating "the a law for the rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and, at all times, and under all circumstances." The Court went on to hold that the president's power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in a time of war did not extend to creating another court system run by the military. (Source - PATCH - See link below)

Labor Law

In Re Debs (1895)

Eugene V. Debs, an American railway union officer and one of the leaders of the Pullman Railroad Car workers' strike in 1894, refused to honor a federal court "injunction" ordering him to halt the strike. Debs appealed his "contempt of courts conviction. At issue was whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to stop railroad workers from striking.

The Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision, upheld the authority of the federal government to halt the strike. The Court reasoned that the federal government has "enumerated powers" found in Article 1, Section 8, to "regulate commerce ... among the several states," and to establish post offices and post roads. When the American Railway Union struck, it interfered with the railroad's ability to carry commerce and mail which benefited the needs and "general welfare" of all Americans.


Lochner v. New York (1905)

A New York law set limits on how many hours bakery employees could work. Lochner was convicted and fined fifty dollars for permitting an employee to work more than the lawful number of hours in one week. On appeal, Lochner claimed that the New York law infringed on his right to make employer/employee contracts. At issue was whether a law which limited the number of hours bakery employees were allowed to work interfered with the bakery owner's right to make employer/employee contracts.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that even though states have the power to regulate in the areas of health, safety, morals, and public welfare, the New York law in question was not within the limits of these "police powers" of the State. [This decision marked the beginning of the "substantive due process" era, in which the Court struck down a number of state laws that interfered with an individual's economic and property rights. It was overturned twelve years later in Bunting v. Oregon. (Source - PATCH - See link below)


Freedom of the Press


New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)

Ruled for the first time that the First Amendment covers libelous statements. The court said public officials may not win damages for defamatory statements regarding their official conduct unless they can prove actual "malice," that is, that the statements were made knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false.


NY Times v United States (1971)

The New York Times received secret info about the US involvement in the Vietnam War, specifically what had "really" happened at the Gulf of Tonkin. It turned out that the President had exaggerated the incident and used that exaggeration to gain increased war powers form congress (the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution). The New York Times sought to publish the information and the government attempted to get an injunction barring them from going to press with it. The Times sued claiming that the government was infringing upon their first amendment right of freedom of speech. The government claimed that a limitation of that right was in order because it was dangerous to the security of the nation.

The court affirmed the position of the New York Times. The court ruled that the information did not represent a clear and present danger to national security and that the governments attempt to suppress the information was an attempt at censorship and a violation of first amendment rights to freedom of the press.


*Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) - Students Rights

Kathy Kuhimeier and two other journalism students wrote articles on pregnancy and divorce for their school newspaper. Their teacher submitted page proofs to the principal for approval. The principal objected to the articles because he felt that the students described in the article on pregnancy, although not named, could be identified, and the father discussed in the article on divorce was not allowed to respond to the derogatory article. The principal also said that the language used was not appropriate for younger students. When the newspaper was printed, two pages containing the articles in question as well as four otherarticles approved by the principal were deleted.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Hazelwood School District did not violate the First Amendment right of the students. The Court ruled that School officials need not tolerate speech which is inconsistent with the school's basic educational mission. The Court distinguished this case from the Tinker decision (school officials could not punish students for wearing armbands in protest of the Vietnam war "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate") because the Tinker case involved a student's personal expression. This was, instead, a school newspaper, and as such could reasonably be perceived to bear the "imprimatur" of the school. They justified this because the publication of Spectrum was a part of the curriculum, i.e., it was in the curriculum guide as a part of the Journalism course, it was taught during school hours by a faculty member, the students received grades and academic credit, the faculty advisor exercised control over the publication, and the principal had to review it. The school's policies did not reflect an intent to expand the students' rights by converting a curricular newspaper into a public forum. The court further added that the principal's fears were reasonable: he was concerned that the students' identities could not be assured, that the privacy interests of boyfriends and parents were not adequately protected, and that parents mentioned in the divorce article were not given an opportunity to defend themselves. (Source - PATCH - See link below)

Search and Seizure

Weeks v. United States (1914)

Fremont Weeks was suspected of using the mail system to distribute chances in a lottery, which was considered gambling and was illegal in Missouri. Federal agents entered his house, searched his room, and obtained papers belonging to him. Later, the federal agents returned to the house in order to collect more evidence and took letters and envelopes from Weeks' drawers. In both instances, the police did not have a search warrant. The materials were used against Weeks at his trial and he was convicted. At issue was whether the retention of Weeks' property and its admission in evidence against him violated his Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure and­his Fifth Amendment right not to be a witness against himself.

The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided that as a defendant in a criminal case, Weeks had a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and that the police unlawfully searched for, seized, and retained Weeks' letters. The Court praised the police officials for trying to bring guilty people to punishment but said that the police could not be aided by sacrificing the fundamental rights secured and guaranteed by the Constitution. [This decision gave rise to the Exclusionary Rule." This meant that evidence seized in violation of the Constitution cannot be admitted during a trial.] (Source - PATCH - See link below)


Mapp v Ohio (1961)

Dorlee Mapp was suspected of having information in her home that would implicate a suspected bomber. The police came to her home and asked if they might search the residence. Ms. Mapp called her lawyer and was advised to ask for a warrant. They police did not have a warrant and were asked to leave. Hours later the police returned and forcibly entered the residence. Mrs. Mapp demanded to see the warrant and a piece of paper was waved in her face. Mrs. Mapp grabbed the paper and tucked it in her blouse. A struggle ensued where Ms. Mapp was knocked to the ground as police retrieved the supposed warrant. Outside Ms. Mapp's attorney arrived on the scene but was prevented from entering the residence. The police found pornographic materiels in the house and Ms. Mapp was arrested for possession of lewd materials. Ms. Mapp was convicted of this crime. Ms.. Mapp appealed her conviction on the grounds that the search of her home was in violation of her rights.

The court ruled that the evidence obtained in the search was inadmissable because it was seized in an illegal search. In ruling this way the court created the "exclusionary rule" which makes illegally obtained evidence inadmissable in court. This ruling upheld the principles of the fourth amendment.


Olmstead v United States

Roy Olmstead, a bootlegger, had a good business going during the prohibition years. He sold liquor illegally in violation of the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act. The government in searching for evidence used a new technology and tapped into Olmstead's phone lines. They recorded evidence against Olmstead, arrested him and he was convicted using that evidence. Olmstead's lawyer appealed arguing that the police had violated his right to privacy by listening in on his phone conversations. He further argued that the evidence used to convict him should be thrown out because it was obtained without a warrant.

Olmstead's conviction was upheld as the court ruled that right to privacy and the need for a search warrant did not apply to telephone conversations. Attorney Louis D. Brandeis, later to become Supreme Court Justice, argued in defense of Olmstead to no avail.


Katz v. United States (1961)

Katz was arrested for illegal gambling after using a public phone to transmit "gambling information." The FBI had attached an electronic listening/recording device onto the outside of the public phone booth that Katz habitually used. They argued that this constituted a legal action since they never actually entered the phone booth.

The Courts decision written by Justice Potter Stewart, ruled in favor of Katz, stating the Fourth Amendment allowed for the protection of a person and not just a person's property againsty illegal searches. Whatever a citizen "seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accesible to the public, may be constitutionally protected."


*New Jersey v T.L.O. (1984)

Two students were found smoking in the girls bathroom. One student confessed but the other, T.L.O. (her initials), denied smoking. In fact, T.L.O. claimed she did not smoke at all. The school Assistant Principal then proceeded to search T.L.O.'s purse. In the purse he found Marijuana in small bags, rolling paper, a large amount of cash and a list of names who owed T.L.O. money. The police were summoned and T.L.O. was arrested. T.L.O. was convicted and through the appeals process the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. T.L.O. claimed that the search of her purse violated her Constitutional rights.

The Court ruled against T.L.O. setting new standards for school officials. The Court ruled that school officials may search a student under "reasonable suspicion." The standard is less than that required of police therefore giving school officials much broader search powers under the fourth amendment.

Rights of the Accused

Betts v Brady - 1942

Betts was indicted for robbery and detained in a Maryland jail. Prior to his trial, he asked for counsel to represent him. This request was denied and he was soon convicted. While incarcerated, Betts filed a habeas corpus petition in the lower courts. After they rejected his petitions, he filed a certiorari petition with the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case. Bett argued that his 6th Amendment right to a fair trial was violated because of his lack of counsel. The State of Maryland held that most states did not require the appointment of counsel in non-capital cases and the circumstances of this particular case did not require it.

Although the Court found in favor of Betts, it decided that the right to counsel must be decided on a case- by-case basis. This ruling was upheld for 20 years until it was overturned by Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963.


Gideon v Wainwright (1963)

Gideon was accused of breaking into a poolroom. Gideon, an ex con, was too poor to pay for a lawyer and asked the court to appoint one for him. The court refused to grant his request stating that lawyers were only provided for those accused of committing capital crimes like murder, rape, etc. Gideon was tried and was forced to defend himself. While in Prison Gideon hand wrote a plea to the Supreme Court and was granted a hearing. At this point he received representation from lawyers who were attracted to his case. Gideon argued that his right to a fair trial was violated.

Gideon's position was upheld. The Court ruled that all citizens must be provided a lawyer if they cannot afford one. This is regardless of the type of crime.


Miranda v Arizona (1966)

Ernesto Miranda was arrested for the kidnaping and rape of a young woman. Upon arrest Miranda was questioned for two hours. He never asked for a lawyer and eventually confessed to the crime. Later, however, a lawyer representing Miranda appealed the case to the Supreme Court claiming that Miranda's rights had been violated.

Miranda was acquitted. The Court ruled that citizens must be informed of their rights prior to questioning. Any evidence or statement obtained prior to a suspect being read his/her rights is inadmissable. This has led to what is commonly referred to as one's "Miranda Rights" having to be read upon questioning or arrest. They are: "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can, and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you." Note, Miranda was later killed in a barroom brawl, stabbed to death.

Civil Rights

Plessey v Ferguson (1896)

Homer Plessey, a member of a citizens group protesting the Jim Crow laws that created segregation in the south, was arrested for violating the law that forced Blacks to ride in separate train cars. Plessey claimed that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive "equal protection under the law." The state argued that Plessey and other Blacks did receive equal treatment, just separate.

Plessey's conviction of a violation of Jim Crow laws has upheld by the Court. The Court ruled that the 14th amendment did say that Blacks had the right to the same facilities, just equal facilities. By ruling this way the court created the doctrine of "separate but equal."


Brown v Board of Ed. Topeka Kansas (1954)

Linda Brown, a student in the segregated Topeka Kansas school district had to walk 5 miles to school each day. Across the train tracks from her house there was a white school she was unable to attend. Oliver Brown enlisted the help of the NAACP to ensure that his daughter was able to go to the best school possible. Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP, challenged the segregation of the school claiming that the laws violated the 14th amendment to the Constitution that said that all citizens were to receive "equal protection under the law." The state argued that Plessey v Ferguson had set the precedent and that the laws was clear on this point.

The court affirmed the position of Marshall and the Brown family and overturned the precedent set by the Plessey decision. Justice Earl Warren claimed that "in the eyes of the law, justice was color-blind." In ruling in favor of Brown the court ordered the integration of America "with all deliberate speed." The civil rights movement had begun!


Korematsu v United States (1944)

In 1941 Congress passed a law called the Japanese Exclusion Act. According to this law all those of Japanese decent had to be removed from the west coast of the United States because we were at war with Japan and the Japanese Americans living on the coast constituted a threat to national security. Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American citizen, challenged this law in court. He claimed that the law violated the 14th amendment that guaranteed all citizens equal protection under the law.

The court ruled that Japanese American citizens did in fact represent a threat to national security. Note, the United States government later apologized to the families of Japanese Americans effected by this decision. A token financial settlement was made.


University of California Regents v Bakke (1976)

Alan Bakke, an engineer with high grades, applied to several medical schools in the hopes of one day becoming a doctor. Bakke was rejected by all of the schools he applied to but the University of California at Davis encouraged him to apply again. The next year Bakke again applied and was again rejected. Bakke then found out that the University's affirmative action program reserved 17 places for minority candidates regardless of qualifications. Bakke sued the University claiming that he was the victim of "reverse discrimination." The university argued that the creation of quotas was needed to ensure minority admission to college under their affirmative action program.

In a two part ruling the court ordered Bakke to be admitted to medical school. The court ruled that Bakke had, in fact, been discriminated against. The court did, however, uphold the legality of affirmative action programs. The court cited Harvard Universities affirmative action program that created guidelines for admission rather than strict quotas.

Freedom of Religion

*Engle v Vitale (1962)

In the late 1950's the New York State Board of Regents wrote and adopted a prayer which was supposed to be nondenominational. The board recommended that the prayer be said by students in public schools on a voluntary basis every morning. In New Hyde Park Long Island a parent sued the school claiming that the prayer violated the first amendment of the constitution. The school argued that the prayer was nondenominational and did not attempt to "establish or endorse" a religion and thus that it did not violate the establishment clause.

The court ruled against the school district and upheld the establishment clause of the first amendment. Prayer in schools was to be considered unconstitutional.


*Abington v Schempp (1963)

This case involved a Pennsylvania law requiring that at least ten Bible verses be read in public schools at the beginning of each day. The Schempps, a family in Abington, sued the school district for violating the first amendment of the constitution.

Just as in Engle v Vitale, religious instruction in school was deemed to violate the 1st amendment of the constitution.


*Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)

An Arkansas statute forbade teachers in public schools from teaching the "theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals." A teacher determined that the law was in valid and lost her job for violating it. The Supreme Court of the United States was called in to review this statute which made it unlawful for teachers in state schools to teach human evolution .

At issue was whether the Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution because of its religious purpose.

The Court held that the Arkansas statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in public learning institutions was contrary to the freedom of religion mandate of the First Amendment, and was also in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court ruled that a state may not eliminate ideas from a school's curricula solely because the ideas come in conflict with the beliefs of certain religious groups. In this case, the law that compelled the evolution doctrine to be removed from the course of study was passed to agree with the religious point­of­view of certain fundamentalists. Thus, the reason for removing the doctrine was to aid a religious point­of­view and, therefore, was violative of the First Amendment. The Court said that the law must require religious neutrality. (Source - PATCH - See link below)


*Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)

The parents of three children attending public school in Alabama challenged the constitutionality of an Alabama law which authorized a one minute period of silence in all public schools for meditation or voluntary prayer. At issue was whether the Alabama law requiring a one minute silence period encouraged a religious activity in violation of the First Amendment establishment clause.

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the Alabama law was a law respecting the establishment of religion and thus violated the First Amendment. The Court said that the First Amendment was adopted to limit the power of Congress to interfere with a person's freedom to believe, worship, and express himself as his conscience tells him. The Amendment gives an individual the right to choose a religion without having to accept a religion established by the majority or by government.

The Court said that government must be completely neutral toward religion and not endorse any religion. Therefore, statutes like the Alabama law requiring one minute for silence in the schools must have a secular or non­religious purpose to be within the Constitution. Since Senator Holmes, who was the primary sponsor of the bill, testified "that the bill was an effort to return voluntary prayer to our public schools," the Court decided that the purpose of the Alabama law was to endorse religion and was solely an effort to return voluntary prayer to the public schools. It was, therefore, struck down as being inconsistent with the Constitution. (Source - PATCH - See link below)


SOURCE: Northport HS - Project PATCH -

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