The era from the 1970’s to the present, for our purposes, will be identified as Modern America. Throughout the world enormous strides in technology changed the lives of all. In this era, United States foreign policy shifts to more open relationships with communist China and the Soviet Union. As the Cold War ended the focus turned to combating terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East. On the domestic front, this period ushered in a conservative movement to address the growth in federal power. This often led to a conflict in the direction the U.S. should take as a nation.
President Clinton led the country through a period of peace and prosperity. With inflation and unemployment low, he proposed a balanced budget to Congress. His domestic agenda included seeking laws protecting the jobs of people who had to care for ill family members, legislation restricting certain gun sales, and strengthening environmental protection policies. Clinton was also concerned with national interest and foreign policy. He advocated international free trade, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Military, he sent forces to Bosnia and Iraq.
Clinton was reelected in 1996 with very high approval ratings. But his indiscretions with a young white house intern led Clinton to become the second president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was tried in the Senate and found not guilty of the charges against him. He continued to enjoy record high approval ratings during his second term.
President Nixon advanced national interest in foreign policy, making successful trips that eased tensions with China and the USSR. He negotiated treaties to limit nuclear weapons. And he also worked to end the conflict in Vietnam. His administration tried to prevent the publication of classified documents pertaining to Vietnam War, but the Supreme Court held in New York Times v. United States (1971) that the prior restraint was unconstitutional.
A few months after his decisive reelection victory in 1972, the “Watergate Scandal” began to plague Nixon’s administration. Burglars were caught trying to place listening devices at the National Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Their arrests lead to discoveries that administration officials had been involved in unethical activities designed to sabotage Democratic candidates, and then conspired to cover it up. Nixon denied personal knowledge or involvement, but White House tape recordings revealed he had known about and approved the cover up. The Supreme Court held that the President did not have the power to withhold the tapes from investigators upon claim of “executive privilege” in the case United States v. Nixon (1974) Facing probable impeachment, Nixon became the first and only president to resign in August 1974.
In his later years, Nixon published books on his experiences with public service and foreign policy, gaining a reputation as an elder statesman.
After working as assistant state attorney general of Arizona, she served in the state senate, becoming the first female majority leader in the country. She went on to serve as a Superior Court judge and on the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed her nomination unanimously and O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history.
On the Court, she was often the swing vote. She developed a test for identifying Establishment Clause violations, called the Endorsement Test. She voted to limit federal power under the Commerce Clause in United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000). These landmark federalism decisions marked the first time the Court limited federal commerce power since the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Justice O’Connor announced she would step down from the Court in 2005, and retired when her replacement was sworn in the next January. She has since spoken out on the importance of separation of powers and checks and balances in our system of government.
He ran for president in 1980 and won in a landslide victory. Domestically he focused on principles of limited government and cutting the size of the federal bureaucracy. Reagan also appointed the first female Supreme Court justice in American history, Sandra Day O’Connor.
As President, he made national interest and foreign policy a priority. His goal was to end the Cold War with the Eastern Bloc countries, dominated by the communist-controlled Soviet Union. Reagan changed the United States’ policy from the previous one of “containment” of the USSR to confrontation. He increased the nation’s defense spending and built more nuclear weapons. He went against the advice of many of his own advisors and made a controversial speech, in which he directly challenged the Soviet leader to “tear down” the wall separating East and West Germany and allow East Germans to enjoy their natural rights and freedom. Two years later the wall did come down, and by the end of the 1980s, the Soviet regime had virtually collapsed.
Quoting one of the earliest American colonists, Reagan called the United States and its promise of freedom a “shining city on a hill.” When he died in 2004, one of his obituaries explained that his efforts brought liberty to “millions of Europeans across a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia.”
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”