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Government Court Cases

By taillon27 Aug 06, 2013 2832 Words
Near vs. Minnesota (1931)

1. Constitutional Question: Does Minnesota violate the Freedom of Press in the First Amendment with the “gag law”?

2. Background Information:
J.M. Near. published a newspaper called “The Saturday Press.” The content of “The Saturday Press” was thought to be racist, prejudiced and hateful in general. Because this hateful speech was spread to the public in the form of a Newspaper, Near was taken into custody by the state police. The state arrested the man because of a law called the Minnesota Gag Law of 1925. This law did not allow media that was considered to be hateful to be passed to the public.

3. Opinion
Supreme Court ruled that the Minnesota Gag law was a direct violation of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling of Near v. Minnesota, distinguished between hateful speech and hateful actions. It was found that the newspaper was not an immediate danger nor did it present immediate harm to the population. The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that every American citizen may be granted the freedom to express themselves so long as their actions are done in a way that does not violate local or federal laws.

New Jersey v. T.L.O (1985)

1. Constitutional Question: When searching through a bag, did the principal violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment?

2. Background Information
In 1980, a teacher at Piscataway High School in Middlesex County, New Jersey, found T.L.O. and another girl smoking in a restroom; a place that was by school rule a nonsmoking area. The two girls were taken to the principal's office where T.L.O.'s friend admitted that she had been smoking in the restroom. T.L.O. denied smoking there. She denied that she smoked at all. An assistant vice-principal demanded to see T.L.O.'s purse. Searching through it he found a pack of cigarettes, and some marijuana.

3. Opinion
Students did have Fourth Amendment rights, the Court said; they were protected against unreasonable searches. But school officials needed to be allowed certain flexibility in pursuing their responsibilities. Therefore, while students could not be searched unreasonably, the standard for conducting a warrantless search would be lowered. Teachers and administrators need not have "probable cause" that a crime had been committed in order to conduct a search. Instead, the search must only meet a standard of "reasonableness, under all of the circumstances.” This meant that school officials only needed a reasonable suspicion that a school rule or law had been broken before conducting a search.

Oregon Employment Division v. Smith (1990)

1. Constitutional Question: Did the state violate the right to Exercise Religion, by denying the Natives unemployment for ingesting drugs?

2. Background Information
As part as a religious ceremony, two Native Americans ingested a hallucinogen called peyote. The organization that the two were working for fired them in result of this conduct. When the two counselors filed for unemployment benefits, they were denied due to work-related “misconduct”. The counselors lost their battle in state court. But the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Oregon Supreme Court's judgment. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that while Oregon drug law prohibited the consumption of illegal drugs for sacramental religious uses, this prohibition violated the free exercise clause. The case returned to the U.S. Supreme Court in this new posture.

3. Opinion
The United States Supreme Court stated that the Free Exercise Clause permits the State to prohibit sacramental peyote use and thus may deny unemployment benefits to individuals who are discharged for using the drug. These laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

1. Constitutional Question: Was the requirement of the Act that a woman give her informed consent prior to obtaining an abortion procedure constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?

2. Background Information
The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act (the “Act”) imposed several obligations on women seeking abortions and medical practitioners (for the details, see the issues section below). The Act exempted compliance with the obligations in the event of a medical emergency. The constitutionality of the Act was brought into question

3. Opinion
This case is really one about whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The Supreme Court here says no. The Supreme Court does decide to change the methodological structure Roe announced for evaluating whether particular laws burdening a woman’s right to an abortion amount to constitutional violations. The Supreme Court announces the undue burden analysis, whereby a law is held unconstitutional it is poses an undue burden on a woman at a stage of her pregnancy before the fetus has become viable.

Reynolds v. US (1878)

1. Constitutional Question: Is Polygamy protected by freedom of religion?

2. Background Information:
George Reynolds, secretary to Mormon Church leader Brigham Young, challenged the federal anti-bigamy statute. Reynolds was convicted in a Utah territorial district court. His conviction was affirmed by the Utah territorial supreme court

3. Opinion:
The Court affirmed Reynold's conviction unanimously. Justice Field wrote a concurrence that dissented on one minor point/ Before the Supreme Court, Reynolds argued that his conviction for bigamy should be overturned on four issues: that it was his religious duty to marry multiple times and the First Amendment protected his practice of his religion; that his grand jury had not been legally constituted; that challenges of certain jurors were improperly overruled; that testimony was not admissible as it was under another indictment.

Schenck v US (1919)

1. Constitutional Question: Is Schenck protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment?

2. Background Information:
During World War I, Schenck mailed letters to draftees. They suggested that the draft was a monstrous wrong motivated by the capitalist system. The letters prompted that it was evil, but advised only peaceful action such as petitioning to repeal the Conscription Act. Schenck was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.

3. Opinion:
The Court concluded that Schenck is not protected in this situation. The character of every act depends on the circumstances. During wartime, utterances tolerable in peacetime can be punished.

Texas v Johnson (1989)

1. Constitutional Question: Is the burning of an American flag, a form of speech, protected under the First Amendment?

2. Background Information:
Gregory Lee Johnson in 1984 burned an American flag as a means of protest against Reagan administration. Johnson was tried and convicted under a Texas law outlawing flag desecration.

3. Opinion:
Johnson's burning of a flag was protected expression under the First Amendment. Johnson's actions fell into the category of expressive conduct and had a distinctively political nature. The fact that an audience takes offense to certain ideas or expression, does not justify prohibitions of speech. The Court also held that state officials did not have the authority to designate symbols to be used to communicate only limited sets of messages

Kelo v. City of New London (2005)

1. Constitutional Question: Is it in vilation of the Fifth Amendment's for a city to take private property and sell it for private development, with the hopes the development will help the city's bad economy?

2. Background Information: In 2000, the city of New London approved a development plan that, in the words of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, was “projected to create in excess of 1,000 jobs, to increase tax and other revenues, and to revitalize an economically distressed city, including its downtown and waterfront areas.”  The city purchased property and seeks to enforce eminent domain to acquire the remaining parcels from unwilling owners.

3. Opinion:
The city was not taking the land simply to benefit a certain group of private individuals, but was following an economic development plan. Such justifications for land takings, the majority argued, should be given deference. The takings here qualified as "public use" despite the fact that the land was not going to be used by the public. The Fifth Amendment did not require "literal" public use

Tinker v Des Moines (1969)

1. Constitutional Question: Does forbidding students from wearing armbands in public school, as protest, violate the students' freedom of speech protections in the First Amendment

2. Background Information:
Students planned to show off their support for the truce in the Vietnam War. They decided to wear black armbands throughout the holiday season and to fast on December 16 and New Year’s Eve. The principals of the Des Moines school learned of the plan and met on December 14 to create a policy that stated that any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, with refusal to do so resulting in suspension.

3. Opinion:
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Tinkers, stating that within the nature of protest undertaken by John Tinker, there existed no implicit, or inherent intent to orchestrate violence, harm, disruption, damage, or criminal activity.

U.S. v Nixon (1974)

1. Constitutional Question: Is the President’s Article II constitutional privilege absolute?

2. Background Information:
The special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal subpoenaed tape recordings made of President Nixon, discussing the scandal with some of his advisers. The President claimed executive privilege as his basis for refusing to turn over the tapes

3. Opinion:
The Supreme Court made the point that the President is not a normal citizen, and therefore should receive great deference regarding executive claims of privilege. However, executive privilege is not absolute and must be balanced against the right of the accused in criminal proceedings

Plessy v Ferguson (1896)

1. Constitutional Question: Was the statute requiring separate, but equal accommodations on railroad transportation consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution

2. Background Information:
Louisiana statute required railroad companies to provide separate, but equal accommodations for its Black and White passengers. Plessy was prosecuted under the statute after he refused to leave the section of a train reserved for whites.

3. Opinion:
Under the 1986 ruling, the law establishing "separate but equal" was ruled constitutional, and segregation continued in public accommodations and transportation.

Brown v Board Of Education (1954)

1. Constitutional Question: Does the segregation of children in public schools based on race deprive the minority of equal protection of the laws of the 14th Amendment?

2. Background Information:
Children of black decent were not allowed in public schools attended by whites under laws requiring segregation according to the races. The white and black schools approached equality with the basics, but not the quality.

3. Opinion:
The Supreme Court declared that segregation violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution that guarantees all citizens equal protection under the laws of our country. It decided that the segregation of black and white children in the public schools solely on the basis of race denied black children the equal protection of the laws even if the physical facilities were equal. It initiated educational and social reform across the US and was a factor in launching the Civil Rights Movement.

Roe v Wade (1973)

1. Constitutional Question: Does the Constitution embrace a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion

2. Background Information:
Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. Texas law prohibited abortions except to save the pregnant woman's life.

3. Opinion:
The Court held that a woman's right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters

Heart of Atlanta Motel v United States (1964)

1. Constitutional Question: Did Congress, by passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, deprive motels the right to choose their own customers?

2. Background Information:
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination by places of public accommodation if their operations affected commerce. The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, refused to accept Black Americans and was charged with violating Title II.

3. Opinion:
The Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate local incidents of commerce, and that the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed constitutional muster. The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no "right" to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.

Bush v Gore (2000)

1. Constitutional Question: Did the Florida Supreme Court violate Article II Section 1 Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution by making new election law

2. Background Information:  
The election in question took place on November 7, 2000. Under the Electoral College system, each state votes for the president separately: a victor is then declared in each state, and the victor in the state wins a number of “electoral votes” equal to the state’s number of representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate. At the end of the nationwide ballot count, Gore led Bush 266 – 246 in the electoral vote. 270 votes were required for victory: Florida, with 25 electoral votes, did not have an official victor because the result was within the margin of error for machine counting; Bush had the lead following the machine count, by a very small margin.

3. Opinion:
In a 7-2 opinion, the court ordered that a ballot recount then being conducted in certain counties in Florida was to be stopped due to lacking a consistent standard. The court further declared, in a 5-4 vote, that there was insufficient time to establish standards for a new recount that would meet Florida’s deadline for certifying electors. The ruling in effect awarded Bush the presidency.

Citizens United v FEC (2010)

1. Constitutional Question: Did the Supreme Court's decision in McConnell resolve all constitutional as-applied challenges to the BCRA when it upheld the disclosure requirements of the statute as constitutional?

2. Background Information:
Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization, sought to air what it described as a documentary film about then-Senator and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The film portrayed Clinton in an unflattering light. In addition to broadcasting the film, Citizens United sought to promote its release through televised advertisements. However, the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) popularly known as McCain-Feingold limited use of corporate or union general treasury funds to support electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. The terms of the BCRA specifically limited communications that mentioned candidates by name and were widely distributed. Fearful of potential liability, Citizens United brought suit against the FEC.

3. Opinion:
Congress may not treat corporations and citizens differently with regard to regulated political speech, but may require disclosure regarding the source funding for advertisements. Corporations, whether for-profit or non-profit, and unions may spend money on elections from their general treasuries as they see fit, without regard to time limitations in the BCRA. McDonald v City of Chicago (2010)

1. Constitutional Question: Does the Second Amendment apply to the states because it is incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges and Immunities or Due Process clauses and thereby made applicable to the states?

2. Background Information:
Several suits were filed against Chicago and Oak Park in Illinois challenging their gun bans after the Supreme Court issued its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a District of Columbia handgun ban violated the Second Amendment. There, the Court reasoned that the law in question was enacted under the authority of the federal government and, thus, the Second Amendment was applicable.

3. Opinion:
The Court reiterated that the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms was an individual liberty, and extended those protections by limiting the right of states to prohibit individual firearm ownership. The Court, however, declined to revisit the Privileges and Immunities question, instead resting its holding squarely on due process grounds.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Ruling (2012)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, is a United States federal statute. With the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, it represents the most significant government expansion and regulatory overhaul of the country's healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The ACA aims to increase the quality, affordability, and rate of health insurance coverage for Americans, and reduce the costs of health care for individuals and the government. It provides a number of mechanisms—including mandates, subsidies, and insurance exchanges—to increase coverage and affordability. The law also requires insurance companies to cover all applicants within new minimum standards and offer the same rates regardless of pre-existing conditions or sex. Additional reforms aim to reduce costs and improve healthcare outcomes by shifting the system towards quality over quantity through increased competition, regulations, and incentives to streamline the delivery of health care. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the ACA will lower both future deficits and Medicare spending.

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