Documents: Contemporary America

Before passage of the Medicare and Medicaid Act of 1965, Americans had been required to fend for themselves when they became ill or aged. But in the 20th century, thinking about society’s responsibility to the ill and aged began to change as the nation became more industrialized, as more and more people were moving to cities (and away from families in the country), as the role of the extended family in people’s lives diminished, and as life expectancy rose. Then the Great Depression of the 1930s hit, leaving large segments of the population destitute. In response, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the Social Security Act of 1935 which would provide at least a minimal income, financed by a payroll tax, for persons aged sixty-five and older as well as for widows and those with disabilities. However, health care was not included. According to the1950 census, the number of senior citizens in the U. S. had grown from 3 million 1n 1900 to 12 million in 1950. Two-thirds of older Americans had incomes of less than $1,000 annually, and only one in eight had health insurance. From 1950-1963, the number of older Americans went from 12 million to 17.5 million. During the same period, the cost of hospital care rose at a rate of nearly seven percent per year. As the nation entered the 1950s, those concerned with national health care decided that the best strategy to achieve such might be to concentrate on health care for the elderly rather than for the entire population and to do so through amendments to the existing Social Security law. Every time legislation to provide health care for older Americans, the American Medical Association vigorously fought against it. With the 1964 presidential election, the two candidates were poles apart on federal health care. President Johnson urged Medicare’s passage; Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, was adamantly against it. Lyndon Johnson won an extraordinary victory in November, 1964, and progressive-minded Democrats swept into Congress, giving Johnson overwhelming majorities in both chambers. Surprisingly, a long-time opponent of previously attempts to pass Medicare, Wilbur Mills, now saw the wisdom of medical care reform. In a brilliant stroke, he cobbled together the administration’s bill (hospital coverage), with a Republican substitute (doctors’ fees), and joined them with medical assistance for the poor (Medicaid). Mills characterized it as a ‘three-layer cake,’ and it soon became the law of the land.” Mills introduced the measure in the House where it passed by a vote of 313 to 115. After a lively debate in the Senate, the legislation passed by a vote of 68-21. In order to honor former President Truman for his long-time support of this kind of legislation, President Johnson chose the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, as the site for the signing ceremony. With Truman at Johnson’s side, the former President was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary. The Social Security Act Amendments of 1965 contained two key parts: Title XVIII, Medicare and Title XIX, Medicaid. Title XVIII, Medicare had two basic components. Part A provided Hospital Insurance which covered hospital, skilled nursing, and home health care services. Part A was to be funded by payroll taxes under Social Security, and beneficiaries were to be those 65 and older who are eligible for Social Security. Part B provided Supplemental Medical Insurance to cover the health care services not covered by Part A, generally those provided on an outpatient basis. These include X-rays, diagnostic tests, chemotherapy and dialysis, as well as such necessities as canes, walkers, prosthetic devices, and eyeglasses. It covers those eligible for Social Security and is funded by general revenues and patient deductibles. Title XIX, Medicaid provides health insurance with benefits similar to those provided for Medicare for persons of low income, regardless of age. Medicaid is funded jointly by federal and state governments with the federal government’s portion coming from general revenue funds rather than from payroll taxes. President George W. Bush signed into law the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, creating the first major benefit expansion since the program was established in 1965.
Previous attempts by Congress to adopt immigration laws had relied on complex quota systems that usually favored Western Europe immigrants or limiting the number of immigrants based on a percentage of the number that were currently living in the U.S. By the early 1960s, there was talk of reforming the nation’s immigration policy. This was in part due to the growing strength of the civil rights movement in the U. S. and in part to the feeling of some U. S. leaders that such reform would help the nation’s appeal to the rest of the world in our “Cold War” competition with the Soviet Union. President John F. Kennedy spoke out in favor of reform in June, 1963, when he referred to the old quota system as “intolerable.” After Kennedy’s assassination, Congress began debating a bill co-sponsored by Representative Emanuel Celler (Democrat-New York) and Senator Philip Hart (Democrat-Michigan) and strongly supported by Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat-Massachusetts). The law abolished the long-time quota system based on national origin which favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe and marked a dramatic break with past immigration policy. It placed a much heavier emphasis on family reunification. It set an annual ceiling of 170,000 immigrants from nations of the Eastern Hemisphere and a limit of 20,000 per nation. Unlike the quota laws of previous years, it set an annual ceiling of 120,000 immigrants from nations of the Western Hemisphere but with no per-nation limits. It created an ordering of preferences in the distribution of visas with seven desirable qualifications including: family reunification, refugee status, professionals, artists, scientists, and skilled and unskilled laborers in occupations with insufficient labor supply in the U. S. According to some observers, the law had at least one unintended effect: massive illegal immigration across the southern border of the U. S. This was because the 120,000 annual ceiling on immigration from nations of the Western Hemisphere did not provide enough slots for the rapidly growing population of Mexico, many of whose residents decided to flee to the U. S. In the first five years after the 1965 Act’s adoption, immigration to the U. S. from Asian countries – especially those fleeing from war-torn Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia) – would more than quadruple. Under past U. S. immigration policy, Asian immigration had been largely barred. Other “Cold War” conflicts of the 60s and 70s saw many people fleeing poverty or the hardships of Communist regimes in Cuba, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere coming to the U. S. All told, in the three decades following passage of the 1965 law, more than 18 million legal immigrants entered the U. S., more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years. By the end of the 20th century, the policy placed into effect by the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 had greatly changed the face of the nation’s population.
Congress outlined the purpose of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in Title I of the law: “to encourage or otherwise promote reasonable Federal, State, and local governmental actions … for pollution prevention.” The law states that “air pollution prevention … and air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of state and local governments,” However, in the law, Congress pledges to provide financial aid for “the development of cooperative federal, state, regional, and local programs to prevent and control air pollution.” Observers point out: “The law was passed at a time of growing environmental awareness in the U. S. On April 2, 1970, the first Earth Day took place as a grassroots movement to call the public’s attention to all forms of environmental degradation, and throughout the 1970s, numerous laws were passed to protect the nation’s environment.” Dense, visible smog surrounding several of the nation’s largest urban areas also prompted passage of the law as more and more Americans became concerned about health problems caused by air pollution. Congress had passed earlier laws in 1955, 1963, and 1967 dealing with air pollution, but the Clean Air Act of 1970, in reality a series of amendments to the 1963 law, expanded the federal government’s role. At about the same time that Congress was passing the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Nixon administration created the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and directed it to oversee the Clean Air Act. The law authorized the development of federal and state regulations to limit air pollution from stationary sources such as factories and from mobile sources such as cars and airplanes. The law established four plans aimed at stationary sources of pollution: (1) the National Ambient Air Quality Standards which targeted major chemical pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide; (2) the State Implementation Plans which required the states to develop methods to reduce air pollutants and to meet air quality standards and provided that if a state failed, or refused, to form such a plan, the federal government could administer the law in that state; (3) the New Source Performance Standards the purpose of which was to determine how much pollution should be allowed by industries in different regions of the nation, particularly at newly constructed industries; and (4) the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants which specified a list of almost 200 pollutants and directed the EPA to develop standards for controlling them.
Renamed in 2002 as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in honor of Representative Patsy Mink (D-Hawaii), the person recognized as its major author and sponsor, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 begins with these words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” The law has been used to promote equity in education by making sure that girls and women receive equal resources and treatment in the classroom from the elementary to the university level and to lead the way in establishing women’s athletic programs. It also includes provisions that hold schools liable for sex discrimination and harassment which is defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. The law applies to every aspect of education programs such as admissions, recruitment, academics, employment, athletics, and student services. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education is the primary federal agency responsible for overseeing the law. “Before Title IX, few opportunities existed for female athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which was created in 1906 to format and enforce rules in men’s football but had become the ruling body of college athletics, offered no athletic scholarships for women and held no championships for women’s teams. Furthermore, supplies and funding were lacking. As a result, in 1972, there were just 30,000 women participating in NCAA sports, as opposed to 170,000 men. As to the significance or effect of Title IX, “since the enactment of Title IX, women’s participation in sports has grown exponentially. In high school, the number of girl athletes has increased from just 295,000 in 1972 to more than 2.6 million. In college, the number has grown from 30,000 to more than 150,000. In addition, Title IX is credited with decreasing the dropout rate of girls from high school and increasing the number of women who pursue higher education and complete college degrees.” (
Article I, Section 8 of the U. S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but Article II, Section 2 makes the President the Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the U. S. The last time Congress formally declared war was in World War II. Meanwhile, since World War II, the nation had been involved in undeclared wars in Korea and Vietnam. Some American citizens and governmental figures had grown concerned by Presidents of the U. S. involving the nation in such wars without a formal congressional declaration of war.

Congress finally adopted the War Powers Resolution of 1973 over President Richard Nixon’s veto as a response to executive interpretation of, and action under, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Even though Congress had repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1971, some members felt that Congress needed to act to prevent future presidential action committing American armed forces abroad without congressional involvement. The War Powers Resolution provides that the President can only commit American forces abroad if Congress has declared war or has specifically authorized the President to do so or a national emergency exists because of an attack on the U. S., its territory, or its armed forces. Whenever possible, the law provides, the President shall consult with Congress before committing troops into hostilities. In the absence of a congressional declaration of war when American troops have been introduced abroad, the law states, the President within 48 hours must submit to the presiding officers of the Senate and the House a written report explaining the circumstances necessitating the commitment abroad and an estimate of the duration and scope of the involvement. Furthermore, the law provides, within 60 days after the President submits the written report, he must terminate the commitment abroad unless Congress has declared war or specifically authorized their continuation abroad or extended the 60-day period. However, the law states, the extension may only be for 30 days unless the President determines and certifies to Congress in writing that the safety of the armed forces requires their continued presence abroad.

The consensus has been that the War Powers Resolution has been largely ineffective in limiting presidential ability to commit troops abroad and has, in fact, authorized the President to commit troops abroad for 60 or 90 days.

President Richard Nixon in December, 1973, signed into law “An Act to Provide for the Conservation of Endangered and Threatened Species of Fish, Wildlife, and Plants, and for Other Purposes,” also known as the Endangered Species Act. For many years, individuals and groups in the United States had become concerned about the possibility of species such as the bison, the whooping crane, the bald eagle, as well as other species, becoming extinct. Although earlier efforts to protect certain specific species had been undertaken, there was a growing feeling among many of those concerned with the issue that a more comprehensive law aimed at protecting endangered species and their habitats was essential. The law makes it clear that a species cannot be listed as “endangered or threatened’ just because an individual or group says it is. Rather, it spells out in some detail how this is done and by whom. It provides for gathering data, conducting public hearings, notifying the public, and reviewing findings and past actions. Two agencies – the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – have been given the responsibility of enforcing the law. A portion of the law enumerates the main factors which determine if a species is listed as endangered: (1) whether the species is losing its habitat; (2) whether the species is being overused for commercial, scientific, or recreational purposes; and (3) whether the species’ numbers have been diminished because of disease or predators. As a general rule, either the Fish and Wildlife Service or a private individual or group can propose that a certain species be listed. However, the law provides that, “after the best scientific data available” is consulted, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determine if the species should be placed on the endangered list. The law dictates that a “recovery plan” for that species be implemented and that every five years whether the species should continue to be listed must be reviewed. Of great significance, and the cause of some controversy, the law not only protects the species but also its habitat. The law thus gives the government authority to determine that public or private land is habitat which must be preserved to protect an endangered species. This means, for instance, that a landowner can be restricted as to how he or she uses the land if that land is habitat for a species on the endangered list. The act was amended in 1978 to include the words ‘after taking into consideration the economic impact.’ Accordingly, ‘the Secretary of the Interior may exclude any area from critical habitat if he determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat – with the caveat that he cannot do so if failure to designate such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species concerned.’” Results published by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 has listed about 1,200 animals and 750 plants as endangered or threatened. Some species have made remarkable recoveries since being listed, including the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle, the whooping crane, the grizzly bear, the red wolf, the gray wolf, and the gray whale. Overall, about fifty species have been delisted, twenty-two of those because they have recovered and are no longer threatened or endangered.
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Community Reinvestment Act requires financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low and moderate income neighborhoods, consistent with safe and sound operations. The law provides that a bank’s record in meeting the credit needs of its entire community be evaluated by the appropriate federal financial supervisory agency periodically, that the public can submit comments on a bank’s performance, and that the bank’s CRA performance record is considered when making decisions relative to that bank. Apparently, one of the main concerns of those who crafted the legislation, including its chief sponsor and principal proponent Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin), was “redlining,” the alleged practice of banks refusing to grant loans in certain neighborhoods involving significant risks such as a decline in the market value of property because of problems such as gangs, crime, and vandalism. It appeared also that many unsuccessful applicants were African Americans and Hispanics. Critics of the law argue that it forces banks to lend to people even if such loans cannot be justified on the basis of profitability. Some critics argue, for example, that the CRA, by encouraging banks to make risky loans, was responsible for the so-called “housing bubble” that contributed to the economic recession of 2008.
With the U. S. in a deep recession, Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in 1980 ran against incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter who was seeking a second term. Reagan ran a campaign based on promises of lower taxes, a strong national defense, and less government involvement in individuals’ lives. After Reagan was elected President, in his First Inaugural Address in January,1981, he stressed the importance of courage and perseverance and elaborated on his belief that liberty thrived under limited government. He said: “We are a nation that has a government — not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government…”

He carried out his plan by threatening to veto any tax increase Congress passed. He successfully proposed tax cuts and reductions in funding for some domestic programs, while proposing increased spending on defense. Some historians credit Reagan’s policies for helping boost the U. S. economy by the mid-1980s. Critics, on the other hand, assert that Reagan’s tax plan unfairly benefited the wealthy and blamed “trickle-down economics” for producing large deficits that increased the national debt.

Reagan was re-elected to a second term in 1984 by one of the largest landslides in American political history.

Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in November, 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act is also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act in honor of its Senate and House sponsors, Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming) and Representative Romano Mazzoli (D-Kentucky). The two major restrictive provisions in this 1986 law were: (1) sanctions in the form of fines for employers knowingly hiring, recruiting, or referring for a fee aliens not legally authorized to work in the U. S.; and (2) enhanced enforcement of U. S. borders by increased expenditures for equipment and personnel in order to regain control of the nation’s borders. A separate section of the act made it much easier to enter the United States. Against the advice of the INS, Congress created an experimental Visa Waiver pilot program allowing certain tourists and certain other nonimmigrant aliens to enter the U. S. without applying for a nonimmigrant visa. The program caught on, and, fifteen years later, became notorious when it became known that some of the terrorists who executed the mass murder on September 11, 2011, had entered under this program, which, in the meantime, had become greatly expanded. Another provision authorized legalization for immigrants who either entered the country illegally or entered legally on tourist or other visas and overstayed their authorized stay and had resided in the U. S. since January 1, 1982. This created a so-called amnesty program.
In 1988, the National Council on Disability, a council established by Congress to advise the President and the Congress on issues impacting persons with disabilities, drafted the original version of what became the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Senate adopted the ADA by a vote of 91-6 and the House of Representatives did so by a vote of 377-28, and President George H. W. Bush signed it into law on July 26, 1990. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency with the job of enforcing the various provisions of the ADA. Section 2 of the law spells out Congress’ Findings: “The Congress finds that some 43,000,000 Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities, and this number is increasing as the population as a whole is growing older.” Historically, society has tended to isolate, segregate, and discriminate individuals with disabilities. The same Section 2 spells out the Purpose of the law: “It is the purpose of this Act to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” It also establishes the nation’s goals relative to persons with disabilities: “The nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.”

Since the ADA was signed into law in 1990, its provisions, enforcement measures, and effectiveness have all come under scrutiny. Supporters have credited the ADA with improving the quality of life of millions of disabled citizens and opening new economic opportunities for disabled workers across the nation. In addition, historians have noted ‘the landmark civil rights law changed the way U. S. businesses and institutions understand the rights and abilities of disabled citizens.”

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York City, Washington, D. C., and Pennsylvania, the U. S. Congress by overwhelming votes in both chambers and little debate passed the U. S. A. PATRIOT Act (an acronym standing for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). President George W. Bush signed it into law. Its purpose was “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes.” The law greatly increased the authority and power of the executive branch of U. S. government. Specifically, the law expands the authority of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to gather information. Prior to passage of this law, the U. S. Code narrowly defined the circumstances under which authorities could engage in electronic eavesdropping. Telephone wiretaps, for example, had to be authorized by a court and could be used only to investigate serious criminal offenses. Under the PATRIOT Act, authorities can monitor both Internet and telephone activity without having to convince a judge that there was probable cause that the search would provide evidence of criminal activity. Also, before the PATRIOT Act, court approved wiretapping and other forms of electronic surveillance were limited to certain individuals and circumstances. Other provisions of the law expanded government’s authority to examine financial transactions, especially those involving foreign individuals and entities. The U. S. Department of Justice reported that less than three years after the law was enacted, it had allowed authorities to snag more than 300 terrorist suspects. Some portions of the law have been criticized as violations of the U. S. Constitution’s First, Fourth, or Fifth Amendments as well as the right to privacy. Without question, the U. S. A. PATRIOT Act has had an impact in several areas of American life. Congress has reauthorized the law more than once since 2001.
President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law in February, 2009. The legislation’s longer title reveals much about its content: “An Act making supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and state and local fiscal stabilization, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes.” The impetus for the proposed legislation was the fact that by the latter part of 2007 and the early part of 2008, there was growing evidence of serious problems with the nation’s economy. As proposed by the Obama administration and introduced in Congress, the legislation had three immediate goals: (1) create new jobs and save existing ones; (2) spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth; and (3) foster accountability and transparency in government spending. The Recovery Act intended to achieve these goals by providing $787 billion (increased to $840 billion in 2011) in: (1) tax cuts and benefits for millions of working families and businesses; (2) funding for entitlement programs such as unemployment benefits; and (3) funding for federal contracts, grants, and loans. Here are two examples of how money has been spent: (1) “The General Services Administration has used $5.5billion in Recovery Act funds to convert federal buildings to high performance green buildings and to build new, energy-efficient federal offices, courthouses, and land ports of entry.” ( (2) “As of September 30, 2010, the Department of Education’s entire $97.4 billion in Recovery Act appropriations has been awarded. Grant recipients reported that approximately 275,000 education jobs, such as teachers, principals, librarians, and counselors, were served or created with this funding during the most recent quarter.” The stimulus included about $90 billion for clean energy, including wind, solar, and other renewables; energy efficiency in every form; advanced biofuels; electric vehicles; a smarter grid; and cleaner coal. While the stimulus isn’t the New Deal, it is similar in that it was a massive exercise in response to an economic collapse.

Supreme Court Cases

In 1914, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence seized illegally in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is inadmissible in federal courts. The so-called “exclusionary rule” was thus born. In 1949, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment is “incorporated” by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and thus now applies to the states. However, the Court declined to apply “the exclusionary rule” to the states. Thus, evidence seized illegally in violation of the Fourth Amendment was still admissible against the accused in state courts.

In 1957, Cleveland, Ohio, police arrived at Dollree Mapp’s home searching for a man believed to be involved in a recent car bombing and for evidence involving an illegal gambling operation. Mapp refused to admit them, and they had no search warrant. The officers left, but soon returned, knocked on the door, and when Mapp did not immediately answer, they opened the door and entered. When Mapp appeared and demanded to see a search warrant, she was shown a piece of paper which she snatched away from the officer. The officer retrieved the paper and handcuffed Mapp. The police then searched the entire house but found no bombing suspect and no evidence of an illegal gambling operation. However, they did find some obscene material, possession of which was at the time a violation of Ohio law. At her trial in an Ohio court on a charge of possession of obscene literature, no search warrant was produced, and the failure to produce one was not explained. After her conviction, Mapp appealed to higher Ohio courts which upheld her conviction, and she then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court overturned Mapp’s conviction and for the first time applied “the exclusionary rule” to state courts. As a result, evidence obtained by police in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used against the defendant in either a federal or a state court.

The New York Board of Regents, a government agency created by the New York Constitution, composed a prayer and recommended its use to the state’s public schools. The Board of Education for a public school district in the state then required its schools to begin each school day with the Regents composed prayer. Parents of ten students brought suit in a New York court challenging the constitutionality of the prayer because it was contrary to their religious beliefs and those of their children. They argued that the prayer was a violation of the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. The trial court upheld use of the prayer so long as the school did not compel any student to participate over parents’ objections. A New York Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s judgment, and the parents then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 6-1 vote, with two justices not participating, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the New York courts and ruled that requiring public school students to recite a government composed prayer is a violation of the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black stated: “It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by government.”

The Tennessee Constitution requires apportionment of both houses of the state legislature on the basis of population after the census every ten years. However, since 1901, no apportionment had been carried out in spite of changes in population growth and the movement of large numbers of people from rural areas to urban areas of the state. As a result, by 1960, the state’s House districts districts varied in population from 3,454 to 79,301, and the state’s Senate districts varied in population from 39,727 to 237,905. Residents of several Tennessee urban areas filed suit in a federal court against Joe Carr, the Tennessee Secretary of State, and other state officials. They argued that Tennessee’s failure to reapportion since 1901 denied them the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The lower federal court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction based on the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1946 case Colegrove v Green. In that case, the Court ruled that federal courts did not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving the drawing of legislative districts because this was a “political question” to be answered by the elected branches of government. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 6-2 vote (one justice not participating), the Supreme Court overturned the Colegrove v Green ruling. The Court held that under the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, federal courts do have jurisdiction to hear cases involving the drawing of legislative districts.

The Court’s decision in Baker v Carr led to later Court decisions often referred to as the Court’s “one man-one vote” rulings which had a major impact on the distribution of political power between urban and rural areas in state legislatures, the U. S. House of Representatives, and county commissioners courts.

After his retirement as Chief Justice of the U. S. from 1953-1969, Earl Warren was asked what he regarded as the most significant case decided during his tenure as Chief Justice. His answer was Baker v Carr.

In 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Florida and charged with breaking and entering a poolroom with intent to commit petty larceny. Gideon was indigent and thus unable to afford a lawyer. At his trial in a state court, he asked the judge to appoint a lawyer to represent him. His request was denied because under Florida law at that time, an indigent was entitled to the assistance of a lawyer provided by the state only if charged with a capital offense. Under U. S. constitutional law at that time, as decided by the Supreme Court, a state was only required to appoint a lawyer if the accused was a victim of “special circumstances” such as feeblemindedness, illiteracy, youth, etc. Gideon did not claim any “special circumstances.” Gideon defended himself, but a jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to five years in prison. After losing an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, he prepared a handwritten petition asking the U. S. Supreme Court to consider his appeal. The Supreme Court agreed to do so, and furthermore, the Supreme Court appointed a lawyer to argue his case before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court chose Abe Fortas, a prominent Washington, D. C. attorney who had appeared frequently before that Court and a future Supreme Court justice.

A unanimous Supreme Court overturned Gideon’s conviction. The Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel now applies to the states using the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the doctrine of “incorporation” and requires that in any serious criminal case in a state court, if the accused cannot afford a lawyer, the state must provide one. The Court called the right to a lawyer “fundamental” and necessary for a fair trial.

Gideon was retried before the same judge in the same courtroom, but this time he had a court-appointed lawyer and was acquitted.

In another case some years later, the Supreme Court extended the right to a lawyer to any criminal case in a state court in which a jail sentence of any length is a possible outcome.

L. B. Sullivan, an elected City Commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, brought a libel suit against four African American ministers and the New York Times. He argued that he had been libeled by certain statements in a full-page advertisement entitled “Heed Their Rising Voices” which appeared in the Times. The advertisement described the civil rights movement in the South. Although Sullivan was not mentioned by name, he argued that the word “police” in the ad referred to him because he was the city commissioner who supervised the Police Department. It was not disputed that some statements in the ad were not accurate descriptions which had occurred in Montgomery. A jury in a lower Alabama found for Sullivan and awarded him $500,000 in damages, a judgment affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court. The New York Times appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment and thus ruled in favor of the New York Times. In doing so, the Court interpreted the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press to establish the following rule for what public officials must prove to win a libel suit for defamatory falsehoods relating to their official conduct: a public official must prove that the defamatory statement about his official conduct was made with “actual malice” – that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.

This “actual malice” rule in reality has meant that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a public official to win a libel suit relating to his official conduct.

A Connecticut law adopted in 1879 made it a crime for any person to give information about or use any drug, article, or instrument to prevent contraception. The Executive Director, Estelle Griswold, and Medical Director of the Planned Parenthood of Connecticut were charged, tried, and convicted of violating the law by giving information, instruction, and medical advice to married persons regarding means of preventing conception. Their conviction was affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, and they then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court reversed their conviction and ruled that the Connecticut law was unconstitutional because it infringed on the constitutionally protected right to “privacy” of married people. The majority concluded that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various guarantees create zones of privacy” into which government cannot intrude. The majority asserted that the right to privacy was inherent in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments and that states must honor it based on the Fourteenth amendment’s due process of law clause and the doctrine of incorporation.

On March 3, 1963, an eighteen year-old girl was kidnapped and raped near Phoenix, Arizona. Ten days afterwards, the police arrested Ernesto Miranda, a twenty-three year-old, and charged him with kidnapping and rape. At the police station, the rape victim identified Miranda in a polce lineup as her attacker. He was interrogated by police and never told he had the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. At first he denied his guilt but eventually confessed and wrote and signed a statement admitting and describing the crime. At his trial, the confession was admitted into evidence, and he was convicted of kidnapping and rape. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, and Miranda appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned Miranda’s conviction. Speaking through Chief Justice Earl Warren, the majority held that if police do not inform the accused of certain constitutional rights, including their Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination, then their confessions may not be used as evidence against them at trial. Warren summarized the Court’s holding: “When an individual is taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom by the authorities in any significant way and is subjected to questioning, the privilege against self-incrimination is jeopardized. … The accused must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.”

At a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, in late 1965, some adults and students discussed how they could publicize their opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War. The students later decided that they would wear black armbands to school to show their opposition to the war and their support for a proposed truce. When the principals of their schools became aware of the students’ plan, they adopted a policy that any student joining the protest would be asked to remove the armbands and that any student who refused to do so would be suspended until agreeing to return without the armband. Mary Beth Tinker, a thirteen year-old junior high student, and Christopher Eckhardt, a high school student, wore black armbands to their schools. John Tinker and several other students at another high school did the same. No disturbances on school property occurred. The students were sent home and told that they could come back to school if they removed the armbands. The students’ parents filed a complaint in a U. S. District Court and asked for an injunction restraining school officials from disciplining the students, but the court dismissed the complaint. The parents unsuccessfully appealed to a U. S. Court of Appeals and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s judgment and ruled in favor of the First Amendment speech rights of public school students. The majority noted that wearing the arm bands was “closely akin to pure speech” protected by the First Amendment. In a memorable, famous statement, the Court held: “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate…”

State laws in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island allowed the state to provide financial support for the salaries of teachers of secular subjects in parochial and other nonpublic schools and for the cost of textbooks and instructional materials in specified secular subjects in those schools. A U. S. District Court found that the Rhode Island law violated the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment, but another U. S. District Court found that the Pennsylvania law did not do so. The two cases were appealed to the Supreme Court which consolidated them for decision purposes.

A unanimous Supreme Court declared both state laws unconstitutional as violations of the no establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment. In doing so, the Court established a new test now called “the Lemon test” for deciding cases involving the First Amendment’s establishment clause. The “Lemon test” has three prongs. For a law not to be a violation of the establishment clause, it must meet the following conditions: (1) it must have a secular purpose; (2) its principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) it must not result in excessive government entanglement with religion. If a law does not satisfy any one of the three prongs, the law is unconstitutional.

In 1971, with growing opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War, the New York Times, and a few days later, the Washington Post began publishing articles based on a top-secret Rand Corporation but government commissioned study of American involvement in Vietnam. The New York Times had received copies of the study called “the Pentagon Papers” from a man named Daniel Ellsberg who had worked at the Rand Corporation. After the New York Times began publishing selected items from the study, the U. S. government sought an injunction from a U. S. District Court prohibiting further publication. When the Washington Post a few days later also began publishing items from the study, the government filed a similar suit against the Posts’ further publication. The New York Times and the Washington Post promptly appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Court granted expedited consideration of the two cases.

By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York Times and the Washington Post. The majority concluded that the U. S. government had violated the First Amendment’s freedom of the press when it attempted to stop publication of “the Pentagon Papers.” Citing the Court’s 1931 decision in Near v Minnesota, the majority noted that “prior restraint” by government of publication by the press is hardly ever permitted.

Jonas Yoder and two other men were Amish. The Amish believe that salvation requires life in a church community separate and apart from the world and that members of the community must make their living by farming or closely related activities. Yoder and the other Amish men lived in Wisconsin where a compulsory school attendance law required children to attend public or private school until reaching sixteen-years-of-age. The Amish men’s children had finished the eighth grade in public school but had not attended any school thereafter. The Amish object to their children attending high school because values taught there were very different from Amish values and the Amish way of life. They believe that their children in the high school years should be acquiring Amish attitudes toward manual work and acquiring specific skills needed to perform the adult role of an Amish farmer or housewife. The local public school district brought a complaint against the men charging them with violating Wisconsin’s compulsory school attendance law. The Amish argued that the law violated their free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment. The parents were convicted by a Wisconsin trial court, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed their convictions, and the state appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 6-1 vote, with two justices not participating, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Amish and held that the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause prevents a state from compelling Amish children to attend school to the age of sixteen. The Court concluded that the state’s interest in making sure students attend two more years of school was not enough to outweigh the individual’s right to free exercise of religion.

In 1970, Jane Roe, (a pseudonym) was an unmarried Dallas woman who wished to terminate her pregnancy. Texas, like many states, had a law that made abortion a crime except in cases of danger to the health of the mother. Roe filed a class action lawsuit “on behalf of herself and all other women similarly situated” in a U. S. District Court against Henry Wade, the District Attorney of Dallas County, to enjoin the enforcement of the statute. The District Court ruled that the Texas law was unconstitutional and that single women and married women had the constitutional right to choose whether to have children, but the court refused to issue an injunction against enforcement of the law. Roe then appealed to the Supreme Court, and at the same time, the District Attorney cross appealed to the Supreme Court the District Court’s judgment against Texas’ abortion law.

By a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court upheld the District Court’s judgment declaring the Texas abortion law unconstitutional. The majority held that “the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision.” The Court based its decision in part on the Court’s previous 1965 decision in Griswold v Connecticut and the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that “although the Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy … the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution … This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservations of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” However, the majority continued, the right is not unqualified.

The majority then announced the following rule. In the first trimester of a pregnancy, the abortion decision is left to the woman and her physician. In the second trimester, in the interest of the health of the mother, the state may regulate the procedure in ways reasonably related to maternal health. In the third trimester, the state, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may choose to regulate and even forbid abortion except where medical judgment is that abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

In June, 1972, some men broke into the headquarters of the National Committee of the Democratic Party in the Watergate complex in Washington, D. C. The men were apprehended, and it soon emerged that they might have connections to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. After Nixon was reelected, congressional committees began searching for possible links between the Watergate break-in and the White House, and at the same time, the trial of the five burglars began. Alexander Butterfield, a former White House aide, appeared as a witness before a Senate committee and revealed that Nixon had tape-recorded conversations in the Oval Office of the President. The Senate committee and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate illegal White House activities immediately sought access to the tapes. President Nixon claimed executive privilege which means he argued that conversations between a President and his advisors are confidential and privileged and that no one can compel that they be divulged. The special prosecutor subpoenaed Nixon to turn over the tapes, but again Nixon refused. The judge of the trial court where the burglars were being tried then ordered their release as did a Court of Appeals. Nixon announced that he would release a summary of the tapes. The Special Prosecutor found this unacceptable and was then fired. Within a few days, Nixon agreed to release some tapes. The House Judiciary Committee began hearings on the possible impeachment of the President. Nixon continued to refuse to turn over more tapes. Meanwhile, a federal grand jury investigating the Watergate affair indicted some top White House aides and secretly named Nixon as an unindicted coconspirator. Eventually, the entire dispute ended up before the Supreme Court.

In a significant defeat for President Nixon personally, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the President in this instance could not claim executive privilege, and thus the tapes had to be turned over. In the Court’s words: “The generalized assertion of privilege must yield to the demonstrated specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.” However, for the first time in U. S. history, in an important victory for the office of the President, the Court did declare that the President does have the right of executive privilege and it must be shown great respect and deference.

In 1971, Congress adopted the Federal Election Campaign Act in an effort to prevent corruption in federal elections. The law limited how much money individuals could contribute to political candidates and how much money political candidates could spend. Senator James Buckley and others sued Frances Valeo, the Secretary of the Senate, and others and argued that certain parts of the law were unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and association. After losing in a lower federal court, Buckley and the other plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was extremely divided, and many different opinions were written. The Court came to two very different decisions. First, congressional limits on individual money contributions to political candidates were permissible under the Constitution because of the government’s interest in preventing corruption. On the other hand, congressional limits on the amount of money political candidates could spend were unconstitutional violations of First Amendment rights.

Allan Bakke, a white male, applied to but was denied admission to the medical school of the University of California, Davis which had only 100 openings each year. Sixteen of those positions were reserved for “disadvantaged” minority students (African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans). Bakke had twice before been denied admission while minorities with lower undergraduate grade point averages and lower scores on the Medical College Admission Test had been admitted. Bakke decided to challenge the constitutionality of the university’s admissions policy. He argued that he was denied admission because of his race in violation of the equal protection of the laws clause of the U. S. Constitution’s Fourteen Amendment. A lower state court ruled in Bakke’s favor but declined to order his admission. On appeal, the California Supreme Court ordered Bakke’s admission and held that the university’s admissions policy did violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection of the laws clause. The Regents of the University of California appealed to the Supreme Court.

In this first major constitutional test of so-called “affirmative action” programs, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld the California court’s judgment and thus its decision in Bakke’s favor. The Court ruled that state universities cannot use racial quotas in their admissions decisions. Such quotas based on race are unconstitutional violations of the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the majority determined that, using affirmative action as a way of righting past wrongs against racial and ethnic minorities, state universities can consider race as one of several criteria in making admissions decisions.

In August 1984, the Republican Party was holding its National Convention in Dallas, Texas. A group of about 100 demonstrators marched through the streets of Dallas to dramatize the consequences of nuclear war and to protest certain policies of the Reagan administration. Gregory Johnson was a leader and organizer of the group. When the group reached Dallas City Hall, an American flag was handed to Johnson who soaked it in kerosene and set it on fire. Several individuals who witnessed this were offended by Johnson’s action. However, no violence occurred, and no one was physically injured or threatened. Shortly after the event, police arrived and arrested Johnson. He was charged with desecration of a venerated object in violation of the Texas Penal Code. Johnson was convicted in a Texas trial court, sentenced to one year in jail, and assessed a $2,000 fine. A Texas Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment of the lower court and thus overturned Johnson’s conviction. The state of Texas appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturning Johnson’s conviction. The majority held that burning a flag as political protest is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. The majority wrote: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable… We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”

After the 1990 census, North Carolina was eligible to gain a twelfth seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. Complying with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state submitted to the U. S. Department of Justice a plan with only one majority-African American district. The plan was rejected because a second majority-African American district could have been created. The North Carolina legislature created a second majority-African American district approximately 160 miles along an interstate highway and for much of its length no wider than the interstate corridor. Several white voters, including a Duke University law professor, attacked the constitutionality of that district in a U. S. District Court. They argued that the new district paid no attention to traditional districting concerns such as compactness, contiguousness, geographical boundaries, or existing political subdivisions. They asserted that the sole purpose was to create two districts that were likely to elect African American representatives. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that under a previous Supreme Court decision, favoring minority voters was not constitutionally discriminatory and the plan did not proportionally underrepresent white voters statewide. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that Shaw and the other plaintiffs had stated a “claim upon which relief can be granted under the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority thus invalidated North Carolina’s plan on the grounds that any gerrymander based on race, even one designed to benefit a minority, is subject to strict scrutiny equal protection analysis.

In 1990, basing its authority to do so on the Constitution’s commerce clause of Article I, Section 8, the U. S. Congress adopted the Gun-Free School Zones Act. The law made it a federal crime to possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of a public or private school. Alfonso Lopez, a twelfth-grade student at Edison High School in San Antonio, Texas, was arrested for carrying a .38 caliber handgun into the school. Initially, he was charged with violating a Texas law forbidding firearm possession on school premises. However, those charges were dropped after federal agents charged him with violating Congress’ Gun-Free School Zones Act. Lopez was convicted in a U. S. District Court, but on appeal, his attorneys argued that Congress’ Gun-Free School Zones Act was unconstitutional because Congress exceeded its power under the commerce clause. A U. S. Court of Appeals agreed and reversed Lopez’s conviction. The U. S. then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and ruled that Congress did not have constitutional authority under the commerce clause to pass the Gun-Free School Zones Act. The majority held that “the possession of a gun in a local school zone is in no sense an economic activity that might, through repetition elsewhere, substantially affect any sort of interstate commerce.”

This was the first time since 1937 that the Supreme Court had declared an act of Congress based on the commerce clause of Article I, Section 8 unconstitutional.

The presidential election of 2000 was one of the closest in American history with the outcome depending on the narrow popular vote in Florida. At issue was the problem of so-called non-votes on punch card ballots. If a voter failed to punch through on the ballot and left a “hanging chad,” then the vote might not be counted. If a voter failed to punch through on the ballot and left only an indent, then the vote might not count. On December 8, 2000, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a recount in some Florida counties and a recount in all the counties for these types of ballots.

On December 12 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Florida Supreme Court. By a 7-2 vote, the Court held that the Florida Supreme Court’s decision violated the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. By a different 5-4 vote, the Court held that there was no remedy available. Since December 13 was the deadline for states to verify their presidential election elections, the majority felt that it would be impossible to create a recount procedure that would be uniform throughout the state during that time, and thus, a recount was not possible without offending the Equal Protection clause. The recount standards and procedures would vary from county to county and even from one election judge to another. Under those circumstances, there was no guarantee that each vote would be treated equally.

What the majority of the Supreme Court did was to order a stop to any recount of the Florida vote. That in turn meant that since George W. Bush had slightly more popular votes in the state than did Al Gore, Bush won all of Florida’s electoral votes. That in turn meant that Bush became President because, with all of Florida’s electoral votes, he ended up with 271 electoral votes, one more than the 270 needed to win.

Years of economic decline led the state of Connecticut in 1990 to designate New London, Connecticut “a distressed municipality.” The city’s unemployment was nearly double that of the rest of the state and the city’s population was at its lowest since 1920. As a result, state and local officials target New London for economic revitalization. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced it would build a research facility in the Fort Trumbull area of New London. The hope was that this would draw new business to the area. This would not only create jobs but also generate new tax revenue. The New London City Council authorized the New London Development Corporation to purchase property or to acquire property by using the power of eminent domain in the city’s name. The NLDC managed to purchase most real estate in the area, but when negotiations with some homeowners failed, the NLDC initiated condemnation proceedings against them under the city’s eminent domain power. Susette Kelo lived in the area, and in December, 2000, she and some other homeowners of condemned property sued the city of New London in a state trial court. They argued that the taking of their property, even with just compensation, violated “the public use” requirement of the U. S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment because their property would not be used for a “public purpose” like building a road but would instead be sold to private parties for development that the city claimed would benefit the community economically. The trial court issued a restraining order prohibiting New London’s taking of the property, but on appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court for the city. Kelo and the others then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court affirmed the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision and thus ruled against Susette Kelo and the other property owners. A majority of the Court “rejected a literal interpretation” of the term “public use” in the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment and ruled that the words “public use” can be interpreted to mean “public benefit.” Consequently, the majority determined that government can take private property from an individual in order to turn it over to a private developer where the taking will result in “economic development” for the area.

The City of Chicago had a law which effectively banned handgun possession by almost all private citizens. After the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v Heller in 2008, Otis McDonald and some other citizens of Chicago filed suit in U. S. District Court against the City. They argued that Chicago’s ban left them vulnerable to criminals and sought a declaration that the City’s ban violated the Second Amendment. The District Court rejected their argument. A U. S. Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s judgment, and McDonald appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment and ruled in favor of McDonald. The majority held that the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “incorporates” the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and thus applies this right to state and local governments.

The Supreme Court thus for the first time in U. S. history ruled that the Second Amendment, like most of the other rights of the Bill of Rights, now applies to and limits the power of state and local governments through its “incorporation” by the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process of law clause.

For nearly a century, in order to reduce the influence of big money in politics, Congress has restricted political campaign contributions in federal elections in a variety of ways. As adopted by Congress, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, popularly known as McCain-Feingold, prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a specified candidate. This case arose as a result of a conservative, non-profit organization, Citizens United, wanting to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton and to advertise it during television broadcasts before the 2008 Democratic Party’s primary elections in which Hillary Clinton was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. This would have violated provisions of McCain-Feingold prohibiting certain electioneering communications near an election. Citizens United filed a motion in U. S. District Court for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of that provision of McCain-Feingold. The District Court denied Citizen United’s motion and granted judgment for the Federal Elections Commission. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s judgment and ruled in favor of Citizens United. The majority held that portions of Congress’ McCain-Feingold law were unconstitutional violations of the freedom of speech of the First Amendment. The majority declared that “if the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” The majority noted that “corporations, as associations of individuals, have free speech rights. Spending money is essential to disseminating speech, and limiting a corporation’s ability to spend money is unconstitutional because it limits the ability of its members to associate effectively and to speak on political issues.” Finally, the majority noted, “speech would be suppressed in the realm where its necessity is most evident: in the public dialogue preceding a real election.” Government cannot make political speech a crime, the majority stated, and “yet this is the statute’s purpose and design.”

Congress adopted the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting. Most sections of the law only applied to certain parts of the country. Section 4 of the law provided “the coverage formula” defining the “covered jurisdictions” as states or their political subdivisions that maintained tests or devices as prerequisites for voting and had low voter registration or turnout in the 1960s and 1970s. In these “covered jurisdictions,” Section 5 of the law provided that no change in voting procedures can take effect until “pre-cleared” by specified federal authorities in Washington, D. C. Congress had renewed the Act several times without making changes to the original coverage area. Shelby County in “covered jurisdiction” Alabama sued U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder in U. S. District Court in Washington, D. C. seeking a declaratory judgment that Sections 4 and 5 were unconstitutional and an injunction against the enforcement of the Act. The District Court and the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Shelby County then appealed to the Supreme Court.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the lower courts and declared Section 4 of the Act and its “coverage formula” unconstitutional. As a result, the majority confirmed, its formula can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to the “pre-clearance” requirement of Section 5 of the Act. The majority noted that much has changed in the last 50 years. Literacy tests and other qualifying requirements have been banned for 40 years. The majority stated: “There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.” By 2009, the majority pointed out, “the racial gap in voter registration and turnout was lower in the states originally covered by Section 5 than it was nationwide.” Furthermore, the majority noted, “African American turnout in 5 of the 6 states originally covered by the law has come to exceed white voter turnout.”

The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012 required for profit corporations with 50 or more workers which offer health insurance to their workers to provide contraceptive coverage as part of a preventive care package for their female employees. Twenty contraceptives were covered including four “morning after” contraceptives that work after conception. The Obama administration argued that the contraceptive mandate is about health care. It pointed out that the policy is based on an Institute of Medicine report which lists contraception as a “preventive service” that, like immunizations and cholesterol and diabetes screening and dozens of other services, should be provided by a comprehensive health insurance policy. Hobby Lobby and two other closely held for profit corporations challenged the requirement based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This Act forbids government from imposing obligations on persons or corporations that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby claimed that providing the four “morning after” contraceptives violated their sincerely held religious belief that life begins at conception.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that as applied to “closely held corporations” such as Hobby Lobby, the Department of Health and Human Services regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In striking down the requirement, the majority held that the government had not shown that requiring the coverage was “the least restrictive means” of infringing on religious liberty.

David Riley was driving a vehicle in San Diego, California, when a police officer stopped him because the vehicle’s registration tags were expired. The officer soon learned that Riley was also driving with a suspended driver’s license. The officer asked Riley to get out of the car because, following police department policy, he was going to impound the vehicle. Then, again in accordance with San Diego Police Department policy, when an automobile is being impounded, the officer was required to do a thorough search/inventory of the contents of the vehicle, including enumerating specifically parts of the auto under the hood. Searching under the hood, the officer found two handguns. After the guns were found, police arrested Riley and, among other things, seized several items found either in the auto or on Riley’s person, including his smart phone. A detective searching the contents of the cellphone found a number of items which were introduced as evidence to charge him with several criminal offenses and were also introduced as evidence at Riley’s trial in a San Diego trial court. Riley moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the warrantless search of his vehicle and his cell phone. The trial court denied his motion, and he was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of 15 years to life. A California Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s judgment, and Riley appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided Riley v California along with a similar federal case, United States v Wurie.

By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court overturned the decisions of the California courts and decided that, as a general rule, under the Fourth Amendment, without a warrant, police may not search information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been lawfully arrested. The Court emphasized that searches incident to a valid arrest are limited to the area within the immediate reach of the person arrested for police safety and to prevent the destruction of evidence, and the information on Riley’s cell phone could not pose a danger to officers and no evidence related to the weapons charge for which he was arrested was in danger of destruction. Therefore, the Court concluded, there being no “exigent circumstances” in this case to justify a warrantless search, the evidence was inadmissible.

Ohio defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. James Obergefell met John Arthur decades ago, and they started a life together. In 2011, Arthur was diagnosed with an incurable disease. In 2013, the two men, resolving to marry before Arthur died, went to Maryland where they were legally wed. Three months later, Arthur died. Ohio law did not permit Obergefell to be listed as surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. Obergefell brought suit in U. S. District Court to be shown as surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate. He challenged Ohio law on grounds that it denied same-sex couples the right to marry in the state or to have their out-of-state legal marriages recognized by Ohio and was thus a violation of the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court ruled in Obergefell’s favor. At the same time, similar or identical cases arose and were decided by U. S. District Courts in Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and in every one of these, as in Obergefell’s case, the District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs challenging state laws like Ohio’s. All four cases arose in District Courts within the appellate jurisdiction of the same U. S. Court of Appeals which consolidated the cases for decision purposes and reversed the decisions of all four District Courts. The four cases were then appealed to the Supreme Court which consolidated them for purposes of decision.

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court rejected the judgment of the Court of Appeals in all four cases and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The majority ruled that the due process of law and equal protection of the law clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize such marriages legally licensed and performed in other states. According to the majority, the hope of the couples in these cases “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”