The Supreme Court (C)

Issues Concerning civil rights and liberties

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  • Created by: S Lawton
  • Created on: 25-04-11 17:00

1) The Rights Of Racial Minorities

  • Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka (1954) : The Court declared a law of the state of Kansas to be unconstitutional as it transgressed the 'equal protection' clause of the 14th Amendment. It led to the desegregation of schools across the USA. "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" declared the Court, overturning the 1896 Plessy vs Ferguson case ruling of 'separate but equal'. The decision had to be enforced by Eisenhowers federal troops in 1957 as the Court has no enforcement powers.
  • Gratz vs Bollinger (2003): the Court ruled that the University of Michigan's affirmative action-based admissions programme was unconstitutional because it was too 'mechanistic'.
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2) The Rights of Arrested Persons

  • Gideon vs Wainwright (1963): The Court interpreted the 14th Amendment as guaranteeing the right to legal representation.
  • Miranda vs Arizona (1966): The Court interpreted the 5th Amendment right to remain silent as extending to the right to be reminded of that right when arrested.
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3) Capital Punishment

  • Furman vs Georgia (1972): The Court decided that the death penalty, as then imposed, was a 'cruel and unusual punishment', and thereby violated the 8th Amendment. The consequences of this case included more widespread use of the lethal injection and of two-stage trials, in which, during a second stage, mitigating circumstances are considered before the sentance is decided. 'As then imposed' - the case did not declare capital punishment per se to be unconstitutional.
  • Atkins vs Virginia (2002): the Court ruled that the eecution of mentally ill criminals was unconstitutional.
  • Roper vs Simmons (2005): the Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to sentance anyone to death for a crime they committed when younger than 18.
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4) Abortion Rights

  • Roe vs Wade (1973): the Court struck down a Texas state law forbidding abortion. It interpreted the 14th Amendment right of 'liberty' to include 'freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life', and that this right 'necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy'. Few cases have been of such profound political importance.
  • Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania vs Casey (1992): The Court upheld a Pennsylvania state law that required a married woman seeking an abortion to notify her husand beforehand, recieve counselling on the risks and alternatives and wait 24 hours after recieving counselling. Women under 18 also had to have parental consent for an abortion. This was opposed to the pro-choice lobby. But pro-life supporters wanted the Court to go all the way and overturn Roe vs Wade.
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5) Freedom of Religion

  • Engel vs Vitale (1962): The Court, in nullifying the New York state law, declared that government-sponsered prayers in schools violated the 1st Amendment clause against 'an establishment of religion'.
  • Wallace vs Jaffree (1985): the Court declard an Alabama state law providing for a period of silent meditation at the state of the school day in schools to be unconstitutional.
  • Allegheny vs American Civil Liberties Union (1989): the Court declared Allegheny's Christmas display an infringement of 1st Amendment rights as it contained only religious figures.
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6) Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and Fre

  • Buckley vs Valeo (1976): The Court declared unconstitutional that part if the 1974 Federal Elections Campaign Act which limited expenditure by candidates in presidential elections, claiming that limits violated 'freedom of speech' rights. This case if often quoted by opponents of campaign finance reform.
  • Texas vs Johnson (1989): a Texas state law forbidding the burning of the US flag was declared unconstitutional  - President George Bush Senior descibed the Court's decision as "wrong, dead wrong".
  • Ashcroft vs Free Speech Coalition (2002): The Court declared the Child Pornography Protection Act of 1996 unconstitutional.
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7) Gun Control

  • United States vs Lopez (1995): The Court declared unconstitutional the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act, stating that Congress had exceeded its power under Article I, Section 8. This case was one that also had clear implications for the scope of federal government power over state and local jurisdictions.
  • D.C vs Heller (2008): The Court held that the 2nd Amendment protects an individuals right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes i.e self-defence within the home. The Court based its ruling on the text of the 2nd Amendment.
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