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NAQT: Supreme Court Cases

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Plessy v. Ferguson (Ruling/Related Case)
The court upheld the law provided that "separate but equal" facilities were provided. John Marshall Harlan issued a famous dissent claiming "Our constitution is color-blind." Plessy was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
Plessy v. Ferguson (Year)
1896
Plessy v. Ferguson (Chief Justice)
Melville Fuller
Plessy v. Ferguson (Ratio)
7-1
Plessy v. Ferguson (background)
Homer Plessy (an octoroon) bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway. He sat in the whites-only car in violation of an 1890 Louisiana law mandating separate accommodations. He was convicted, but appealed to the Supreme Court against John Ferguson, a Louisiana judge.
Marbury v. Madison (Ruling)
The court ruled that the Judiciary Act conflicted with the Constitution and was therefore void. Therefore Marbury's request was denied for lack of jurisdiction.
Marbury v. Madison (Significance)
This case established the principle of judicial review, the power of the court to nullify unconstitutional laws.
Marbury v. Madison (Year)
1803
Marbury v. Madison (Chief Justice)
John Marshall
Marbury v. Madison (Ratio)
4-0
Marbury v. Madison (Background)
On his final day in office in 1801, John Adams signed commissions for 42 federal judges (the so-called "midnight judges"). His successor, Thomas Jefferson, opted to not deliver most of the commissions. One appointee, William Marbury, sued the new secretary of state, James Madison, to force the delivery of his commission. The Judiciary Act of 1789 had granted the court original jurisdiction in such cases, but the Constitution did not.
Roe v. Wade (Ruling)
The court struck down state anti-abortion laws as "unconstitutionally vague," held that the word "person" in the Constitution "does not include the unborn," and legalized abortion in the first trimester.
Roe v. Wade (Year)
1973
Roe v. Wade (Chief Justice)
Warren Burger
Roe v. Wade (Ratio)
7-2
Roe v. Wade (Background)
Norma McCorvey (under the alias Jane Roe), a rape victim, sued Dallas County attorney Henry Wade for the right to an abortion. When the case reached the Supreme Court, the plaintiff depended on the growing recognition of a "right to privacy" which began with the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut.
Roe v. Wade (extra info)
Norma McCorvey later joined the pro-life movement and claimed that she was not actually raped and that she was pressured into filing the case by her ambitious attorney Sarah Weddington.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Ruling)
The court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and ruled that "separate but equal" facilities were not constitutional. A second case in 1955 required that desegregation proceed "with all deliberate speed" but Southern schools were notoriously slow in complying; it was not until 1970 that a majority had complied with the ruling.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Year)
1954
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Chief Justice)
Earl Warren
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Ratio)
9-0 (unanimous)
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Background)
The suit was filed on behalf of Linda Brown, a third grader, who had to walk a mile to a blacks-only school when a whites-only school was much closer. Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall argued the case for the plaintiff.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Related Case)
overturned Plessy v. Ferguson
McCulloch v. Maryland (Ruling)
The court ruled that the federal government had the right to establish the bank even though it was not expressly enumerated in the Constitution and also noted that since "the power to tax was the power to destroy," Maryland could not tax the bank without destroying federal sovereignty.
McCulloch v. Maryland (Year)
1819
McCulloch v. Maryland (Chief Justice)
John Marshall
McCulloch v. Maryland (Ratio)
9-0 (unanimous)
McCulloch v. Maryland (Background)
After the Second Bank of the United States began calling in loans owned by the states, Maryland passed a law taxing out-of-state banks. The federal bank refused to pay, so the state sued its Baltimore cashier, James McCulloch.
Baker v. Carr (Ruling)
The defendant argued that reapportionment issues were political, not judicial, matters, but the court disagreed and declared the issue justiciable before remanding the case to a lower court.
Baker v. Carr (Year)
1962
Baker v. Carr (Chief Justice)
Earl Warren
Baker v. Carr (Ratio)
6-2
Baker v. Carr (Background)
Charles W. Baker, a Tennessee citizen, sued the Tennessee secretary state, Joe Carr, claiming that the state's electoral districts had been drawn to grossly favor one political party.
Baker v. Carr (Related Case)
Two years later, in Reynolds v. Sims, the court mandated the principle of "one man, one vote."
Gideon v. Wainwright (Ruling)
The court overruled Betts v. Brady and held that the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments required appointed counsel in all trials. Gideon was retried and found innocent. The case is the subject of the book Gideon's Trumpet.
Gideon v. Wainwright (Year)
1963
Gideon v. Wainwright (Chief Justice)
Earl Warren
Gideon v. Wainwright (Ratio)
9-0, unanimous
Gideon v. Wainwright (Background)
Clarence Earl Gideon was accused of breaking into a pool hall in Florida. Because his crime was not capital, the court declined to provide him with an attorney. He was convicted, sued Louie Wainwright, the director of the corrections office, and took his case to the Supreme Court.
Gideon v. Wainwright (Related Case)
Betts v. Brady
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Ruling)
The court ruled that the federal government did not have the right to regulate child labor; Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a notable dissent focusing on the lack of proper state regulation. The case was overturned by the 1941 U.S. v. Darby Lumber Company case upholding the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Year)
1918
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Chief Justice)
Edward Douglass White
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Ratio)
5-4
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Background)
The Keating-Own Act prohibited the interstate sale of goods produced by child labor leading Roland Dagenhart to sue U.S. attorney Hammer in Charlotte since his two sons would be put out of work.
Hammer v. Dagenhart (Related Case)
U.S. v. Darby Lumber Company
Fletcher v. Peck (Ruling)
The Supreme Court held that the state legislature did not have the power to repeal the sale. This was one of the earliest cases in which the Supreme Court struck down a state law.
Fletcher v. Peck (Year)
1810
Fletcher v. Peck (Chief Justice)
John Marshall
Fletcher v. Peck (Ratio)
6-0
Fletcher v. Peck (Background)
In 1795 the Georgia legislature corruptly sold land along the Yazoo River (now in Mississippi) to private citizens in exchange for bribes. The legislators were mostly defeated in the next elections and the incoming politicians voided the sales. In the meantime, John Peck sold some of the land in question to Robert Fletcher, who then sued him, claiming that he did not have clear title.
Ex Parte Merryman (Ruling)
Taney found the president had acted unconstitutionally (only Congress can suspend the writ), but Lincoln simply ignored his ruling.
Ex Parte Merryman (Year)
1861
Ex Parte Merryman (Chief Justice)
Roger Taney
Ex Parte Merryman (Ratio)
none, this isn't a SCOTUS ruling
Ex Parte Merryman (Background)
This was not actually a Supreme Court case, but a federal court case heard by Chief Justice Roger Taney while "circuit-riding" when the court was not in session. Lieutenant John Merryman of the Maryland cavalry took an active role in evicting Union soldiers from Maryland following the attack on Fort Sumter. Abraham Lincoln declared a secret suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and had a number of opposition leaders, including Merryman, arrested.
Chisholm v. Georgia (Ruling)
However, the Supreme Court held that Article III Section 2 gave citizens the right to sue a state, finding against Georgia.
Chisholm v. Georgia (Year)
1793
Chisholm v. Georgia (Chief Justice)
Chief Justice John Jay
Chisholm v. Georgia (Ratio)
4-1
Chisholm v. Georgia (Background)
Following the death of Robert Farquhar, his estate's executor, Alexander Chisholm—who, like Farquhar, was a South Carolina resident—sued the state of Georgia to collect money Georgia owed Farquhar for goods it purchased during the American Revolution. Georgia claimed that sovereign immunity protected it from Chisholm's suit. However, the Supreme Court held that Article III Section 2 gave citizens the right to sue a state, finding against Georgia.
Chisholm v. Georgia (Misc. Significance w/in Court)
No majority opinion
Chisholm v. Georgia (Misc. Significance w/ effect of Ruling)
The Court's ruling proved so controversial that it resulted in the 1794 passage of the Eleventh Amendment, which specifically prohibited U.S. or foreign citizens from filing a lawsuit against a state (with certain exceptions).
Gibbons v. Ogden (Ruling)
In a unanimous decision, Marshall held that Congress' interstate regulatory power under the Commerce Clause had "no limitations other than are prescribed in the Constitution." Gibbons' federal permit trumped Ogden's state-granted monopoly.
Gibbons v. Ogden (Year)
1824
Gibbons v. Ogden (Chief Justice)
John Marshall
Gibbons v. Ogden (Ratio)
6-0, unanimous
Gibbons v. Ogden (Background)
Thomas Gibbons and Aaron Ogden were partners in a steamboat business that ferried people between New York and New Jersey. Ogden had purchased a license granting him a monopoly under New York law. After the partners suffered a disagreement and split up, Gibbons applied for and received a federal permit to run a similar business. Ogden sued Gibbons for violating Ogden's monopoly.
Dred Scott v. Sandford
(Roger Taney, author and Chief Justice, 7-2, 1857) Dred Scott was a slave purchased by John Emerson in the 1820s and who at various points lived in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory, both of which prohibited slavery. In 1853, Scott sued his then-owner John Sanford for his freedom. The Supreme Court ruled that no African-American—slave or free—was a citizen of the United States, and that therefore Scott lacked standing to initiate a lawsuit in the first place. In addition, the Court found the Missouri Compromise to be unconstitutional, holding that Congress lacked authority to prohibit slavery in any new territory that was not originally part of the United States.
Munn v. Illinois
(Morrison Waite, author and Chief Justice, 7-2, 1877) Ira Munn owned a set of Chicago grain elevators and charged oppressively high fees for their use. In 1871, the Illinois legislature passed a law setting maximum rates for grain storage. On appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the business claimed that the Illinois statute violated Fourteenth Amendment due process rights regarding private property. Chief Justice Waite's opinion upheld the Illinois law, and proclaimed that "when private property is devoted to a public use, it is subject to public regulation." The decision was a landmark in the history of government regulation of businesses, especially railroads.
Muller v. Oregon
(David Brewer, Chief Justice Melville Fuller, 9-0, 1908) Oregon laundry owner Curt Muller was fined for violating an Oregon law that limited the working hours of female employees; he appealed, claiming the law was an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of contract. Arguing on behalf of Oregon, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis invoked scientific evidence to support the notion that excessive working hours were deleterious to a woman's health. Oregon's statute was upheld on the grounds that the state had a compelling interest in protecting the health of its female workers. One side effect of the decision was the judicial justification of sex discrimination in legislation.
Schenck v. United States
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Chief Justice Edward White, 9-0, 1919) The Espionage Act of 1917 prohibited—among other things—any attempt to inhibit recruitment by the U.S. Armed Forces. Charles Schenck was a Socialist who opposed conscription and distributed literature urging readers to resist the draft. Follwing his arrest and conviction, he appealed, claiming that his advocacy was protected speech covered by the First Amendment. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Holmes claimed the First Amendment does not protect speech that creates a "clear and present danger," and that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting 'fire' in a theatre."
Griswold v. Connecticut
(William O. Douglas, Chief Justice Earl Warren, 7-2, 1965) In 1879, Connecticut outlawed the use of contraception. In 1961, Estelle Griswold and Lee Buxton, who were directors of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, were charged with violating that ban after they opened a birth control clinic. Justice Douglas' majority opinion held that "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras," and that "emanations" of those guarantees create a Constitutional "right to privacy" that protects intensely personal decisions, such as the right of married couples to choose whether or not to use birth control. Connecticut's law was struck down.
Miranda v. Arizona
(Earl Warren, author and Chief Justice, 5-4, 1966) In 1963, Phoenix police arrested Ernesto Miranda on suspicion of kidnapping and rape; he subsequently confessed to those crimes. During his initial interrogation by police, Miranda was never informed of his Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights. Writing for a thin majority, Chief Justice Warren stated that "[p]rior to any questioning, [a] person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed," laying the groundwork for the iconic "Miranda warnings."
Loving v. Virginia
(Earl Warren, author and Chief Justice, 9-0, 1967) Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was an anti-miscegenation law that criminalized marriages between whites and non-whites. In 1958, Virginia residents Richard Loving (a white man) and Mildred Jeter (a woman of both African-American and Native American heritage) were married in Washington, D.C., which did not have such a statute. After returning to their Virginia home, they were arrested and convicted under the Racial Integrity Act. Striking down that Act as violating both the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, Chief Justice Warren wrote that "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
Lawrence v. Texas
(Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 6-3, 2003) In 1998, a false police report led Houston police to the apartment of John Lawrence; upon entering, deputies claimed they found Lawrence having sex with another man, Tyron Gardner. Both men were charged with homosexual conduct, still a misdemeanor in Texas. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause protected a person's "liberty" to engage in consensual homosexual activity, and declared the Texas law unconstitutional. The decision in Lawrence overturned Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)—in which the court upheld a similar Georgia law—and has been cited as a key predecessor of both U.S. v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges.