Storybook of Supreme Court Cases

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To introduce this storybook of Supreme Court cases, we have Baker V. Carr, A 1961 U.S. Supreme Court case that essentially requires the Tennessee legislature to reapportion the district boundaries based on population size. It was brought suit by the petitioner, Baker (plaintiff), a Republican living in Shelby County, Tennessee. Tennessee Constitution law forces the legislative districts and boundaries to be redrawn every ten years, so Baker brought suit against Carr (defendant), Secretary of State in Tennessee, officially on the grounds that he was alleging that because Tennessee had not redistricted within the 10 year time frame since 1901, the urban Shelby County district had ten times as many residents as did the more rural districts. Baker had subsequently outed Tennessee legislature for disrupting equal protection rights and this was a violation. Furthermore, Baker replied that urban votes were worth less than rural votes, and the legislature had denied his equal protection rights and broken the law. The State of Tennessee noted back that boundary issues between counties and legislative issues were not not concerned with them, and were not capable of being decided by the courts based on the Constitution’s prohibition on the Court’s interfering with areas outside of the judicial jurisdiction.

As a result, almost every state legislature was reapportioned, ultimately resulting in the political power in most state legislatures to adjust weight from rural to urban areas. The next court case we have introduces one of the most infamous class action suits, Brown v. Board of education I (1954). In this case, the plaintiff/petitioner Oliver Brown sued the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1951, after his daughter Linda Brown, was not allowed to enter any of Topeka’s segregated elementary/primary schools. Detailed within Brown’s lawsuit were claims that schools for black children were not treated the same as white schools, and that segregation violated human rights listed under the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment. The case was seen in front of the U.S. District Court in Kansas, which ultimately ruled that public school segregation had a “detrimental effect upon the colored children” and contributed to “a sense of inferiority,” but still upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine. Finally the Supreme Court ultimately ruled unanimously (9-0) that the plaintiffs were being “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.” Now to follow up, after the Supreme Court decided the original Brown case, they decided to bring arguments into the next court session about how school desegregation was going to happen, and the technicalities within this process. This was later discussed in the part 2 case Brown V. Board of Education (1955). The Supreme Court was required to address the details regarding instructions for states on how exactly to end school segregation. In May 1955, the Supreme Court issued an enforcement decree applicable to both Brown and Bolling, also known as Brown II.

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The Court held the majority ruling that the issues identified in Brown and Bolling called for a variety of local solutions. Chief Justice Warren claimed full responsibility on courts that had been shown the school segregation related cases and local school authorities and the courts. In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court required that the states had to start attempting to obey the Brown decision by implementing desegregation in their schools. This plan also ordered the states to start making plans about how they were going to integrate their schools and make it equal under the 14th amendment for all children. The next court case we have is Buckley v. Valeo, of January 1975. A group of plaintiffs (Sen. James L. Buckley of New York as a frontrunner) sued U.S. district court because FECA’s contribution and spendings violated the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. The district court certified (requested resolution of) the constitutional questions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and this maintained close to the entirety of provisions of the law. The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on November 10. the U.S. Supreme Court on January 30, 1976, struck down provisions of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)—as amended in 1974—that had imposed limits on various types of expenditures by or on behalf of candidates for federal office. The ruling nevertheless upheld FECA’s limits on contributions to individual candidates and on aggregate contributions to multiple candidates by persons, groups, and political action committees (PACs). Buckley v. Valeo is significant for having introduced the notion that spending money on behalf of a candidate or a political party is a form of protected speech. It set the parameters of constitutionally permissible regulation of political campaigns in the United States for more than three decades. Next, we have Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case that was made in 2008 after the conservative group Citizens United released a documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie, which parodied Sen.

Hillary Clinton when she was running for president in 2008. This challenged the Federal Election Commission’s ruling that the documentary film entitled Hilary produced by a non profit corporation and funded by for-profit corporations constituted a violation of the ban on corporate contributions to federal campaigns.The Supreme Court ruled that corporate funding of independent political ads in candidate elections cannot be limited under the first amendment. Another court case that touches base on first amendment prohibitions is none other than the case Engel v. Vitale, where U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 25, 1962, that voluntary prayer in public schools violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition of a state establishment of religion. New York state’s Board of Regents wrote and authorized a voluntary prayer that could be recited by students at the beginning of each school day. In 1958–59 a group of parents that included Steven Engel in Hyde Park, New York, objected to the prayer, which read, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country,” and sued the school board president, William Vitale. The prayer, which proponents argued was constitutional because it was voluntary and promoted the free exercise of religion (also protected in the First Amendment), was upheld by New York’s courts, prompting the petitioners to file a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Engel et al. were supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, and briefs were filed on their behalf by the American Ethical Union and the American Jewish Committee, while the governments of some 20 states called on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the prayer. The Supreme Court’s ruling found New York’s law unconstitutional by a margin of 6–1. Next is Gideon v. Wainwright, one of the most powerful Supreme Court cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court on March 18, 1963, ruled (9–0) that states are required to provide legal counsel to indigent defendants charged with a felony.

The case centred on Clarence Earl Gideon, who had been charged with a felony for allegedly burglarizing a pool hall in Panama City, Florida, in June 1961. At his first trial he requested a court-appointed attorney but was denied. Prosecutors produced witnesses who saw Gideon outside the pool hall near the time of the break-in but none who saw him commit the crime. Gideon cross-examined witnesses, but he was unable to impeach their credibility or point out the contradictions in their testimony. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus from the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that, because he had not had an attorney, he had been denied a fair trial. Fortas, Gideon’s lawyer asserted that no defendant could provide an adequate self-defense against the state and that the U.S. Constitution ensured legal representation to all defendants charged with felonies. Two months later the court unanimously ruled that the denial of an attorney violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees due process. The decision overturned Betts v. Brady. Gideon was granted a retrial, and he was acquitted in 1963. Continuing on the bridges of speech and first amendment protections, we have Gitlow v. New York, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 8, 1925, that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment applied also to state governments. The decision was the first in which the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause required state and federal governments to be held to the same standards in regulating speech. This case arose in November 1919 when Benjamin Gitlow, a local assemblyman, and an associate, Alan Larkin, were arrested by New York City police officers for criminal anarchy, an offense under New York state law. Gitlow and Larkin were both Communist Party members and publishers of The Revolutionary Age which advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S.

Although Gitlow argued at trial that no violent action was precipitated by the article, he was convicted, and the conviction was subsequently upheld by the state appellate court. The court upheld Gitlow’s conviction. In ruling that the conviction was constitutional, however, the court rejected the “clear and present danger” test established in Schenck v. U.S. (1919) and instead used the “bad (or dangerous) tendency” test. The New York state law was constitutional because the state “cannot reasonably be required to defer the adoption of measures for its own peace and safety until the revolutionary utterances lead to actual disturbances of the public peace or imminent and immediate danger of its own destruction; but it may, in the exercise of its judgment, suppress the threatened danger in its incipiency.” The ruling, which enabled prohibitions on speech that simply advocated potential violence, was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court in the 1930s and later as the court became more restrictive in the types of speech that government could permissibly suppress. Travelling back to the civil rights era, there is Marbury v. Madison(1803).

This case arose when William Marbury, a Federalist Party leader from Maryland, did not receive his commission before Jefferson became president to obtain on of the 60 new positions for circuit court judgeships. Once in office, Jefferson directed his secretary of state, James Madison, to withhold the commission, and Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to act. Marbury and his lawyer, Charles Lee, argued that signing and sealing the commission completed the transaction and that delivery, in any event, constituted a mere formality. Marshall, adopting a style that would mark all his major opinions, reduced the case to a few basic issues. He asked three questions: Did Marbury have the right to the commission? If he did, and his right had been violated, did the law provide him with a remedy? Would there be a writ of mandamus from the Supreme Court?

Following the arguments of Marbury’s counsel on the first two questions, Marshall held that the validity of a commission existed once a president signed it and transmitted it to the secretary of state to affix the seal. he declared that the court had no power to issue such a writ, because the relevant provision of the act was unconstitutional. As a result of Marshall’s decision Marbury was denied his commission, But, by his timely assertion of judicial review, the Court began its ascent as an equal branch of government. The next Supreme Court case is McCulloch v. Maryland, U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1819, in which the case was the constitutionality of the act of Congress chartering the Second Bank of the United States (BUS) in 1816. The Bank of the United States was the only bank not chartered within the state. When the Bank’s Baltimore branch refused to pay taxes, Maryland sued James McCulloch, cashier of the branch, for collection of the debt. McCulloch responded that the tax was unconstitutional. A state court ruled for Maryland, and the court of appeals affirmed. McCulloch appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case in 1819.

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Marshall, the Court ruled that the Bank of the United States was constitutional and that the Maryland tax was unconstitutional. Concerning the power of Congress to charter a bank, the Court turned to the Necessary and Proper Clause of Article I, Section 8, which expressly grants Congress the power to pass laws “necessary and proper” for the execution of its “enumerated powers.” The enumerated powers of Congress include the power to regulate interstate commerce, collect taxes, and borrow money. the Court ruled that Maryland lacked the power to tax the Bank because, pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, the laws of the United States trump conflicting state laws. Next is, McDonald v. City of Chicago, a case in which on June 28, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5–4) that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” applies to state and local governments as well as to the federal government. To provide a bit of a background, in 2008, defendant Otis Mcdonald, a retired custodian filed a suit against a 1982 Chicago law that required registration to possess a firearm, but banned registration. Each suit alleged that the law violated the right of individuals to possess and carry weapons. Plaintiffs fired back with the question as to whether the Second Amendment is applicable to the states and their political subdivisions.

As a result, the district court dismissed the suits. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit consolidated the cases and affirmed the lower court’s decision. This next related case, New York Times Company v. United States, arose when Daniel Ellsberg copied more than 7000 pages of documents that revealed the history of the government’s actions in the Vietnam War. They exposed government knowledge that the war would cost more lives than the public was being told. He gave copies of the reports to the New York Times and they began printing excerpts of these reports on June 13, 1971. The government responded to this by obtaining an court order preventing the printing of these materials on the grounds of disturbing national security. In response, Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post, to which the government appealed a case against them. The Court ultimately ruled 6-3 in New York Times v. United States that the prior restraint was unconstitutional. Moving forward is Obergeffel v. Hodges, another legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5–4) on June 26, 2015, that state bans on same-sex marriage and on recognizing same-sex marriages duly performed in other jurisdictions are unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S.Constitution

The two questions presented by the case—the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans and the constitutionality of bans on recognizing same-sex marriages were discussed. The sixth circuit panel held (2–1), among other things, that the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Supreme Court’s own precedents were not inconsistent with state laws and constitutional amendments that defined marriage as a legal relation between one man and one woman only or that denied legal effect to same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. Introducing the next historic case is Plessy v. ferguson, and here, the U.S. Supreme Court, on May 18, 1896, by a seven-to-one majority advanced the controversial “separate but equal” doctrine for assessing the constitutionality of racial segregation laws. Plessy v. Ferguson was the first major inquiry into the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment’s (1868) equal-protection clause, which prohibits the states from denying “equal protection of the laws” to any person within their jurisdictions. it gave heed to laws designed to achieve racial segregation by means of separate and supposedly equal public facilities and services for African Americans and whites. The case originated in 1892 as a challenge to Louisiana’s Separate Car Act (1890).

In 1891 a group of Creole professionals in New Orleans formed the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law. They hired Albion Tourgée, a Reconstruction-era judge and social reformer, as their legal counsel. Homer Plessy, who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth African American, purchased a rail ticket for travel within Louisiana and took a seat in a car reserved for white passengers. After refusing to move to a car for African Americans, he was arrested and charged with violating the Separate Car Act. At Plessy’s trial in U.S. District Court, Judge John H. Ferguson dismissed his contention that the act was unconstitutional. The court rendered its decision one month later, on May 18. Roe v. Wade was another human rights related case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, and it ruled (7–2) that restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. The case began in 1970 when “Jane Roe” AKA Norma McCorvey took federal action against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas county, Texas. The Supreme Court disagreed with Roe’s assertion of an absolute right to terminate pregnancy in any way and at any time and attempted to balance a woman’s right of privacy with a state’s interest in regulating abortion.

Ultimately however the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states laws which made it illegal for a woman to have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy were unconstitutional, and that the decision on whether a woman should have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy should be left to the woman and her doctor to decide. Schenck v. United States, Similar to Gitlow vs. New York, this was a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 3, 1919, that the freedom of speech protection afforded in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment could be restricted if the words spoken or printed represented to society a “clear and present danger.” Charles T. Schenck was general secretary of the U.S. Socialist Party, which opposed the implementation of a military draft in the country. The party printed and distributed some 15,000 leaflets that called for men who were drafted to resist military service. Schenck was subsequently arrested for having violated the Espionage Act; he was convicted on three counts and sentenced to 10 years in prison for each count. Appellants argued that the Espionage Act was unconstitutional and that his client was simply exercising his freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. On March 3 the court issued a unanimous ruling upholding the Espionage Act and Schenck’s conviction. Next is Shaw v Reno, a 1990 court case arguing against the North Carolina General Assembly redrawing its congressional districts to account for changes in population. Only one district in this new map was a “majority-minority” district. The US Department of Justice, led by Attorney General

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Storybook of Supreme Court Cases. (2021, Mar 20). Retrieved from