People: American Civil Rights Movement
Black wrote many well-known majority opinions, as well as famous dissents. His reading of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech led him to argue that the government cannot ban “obscene” speech. He also held in New York Times v. United States (1971) that national security did not allow the government to prevent the publication of sensitive information. He upheld strict separation of church and state in Engel v. Vitale (1962) referencing Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists.
His strict constructionist reading of the Constitution also informed his dissent in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) where he asserted that wearing armbands was “conduct” and not “speech.” He also dissented in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) rejecting the idea that the Constitution protected a right to privacy.
In 1962, Chavez exercised his First Amendment freedom of assembly and founded the National Farm Workers Association, later called the United Farm Workers. This union fought for contracts, safe conditions, higher wages, and job security for union members. He led a nationwide boycott of grapes to increase support for the United Farm Workers.
Though his critics point out that unionized farm labor resulted in great numbers of willing workers being turned away from jobs, Cesar Chavez’s perseverance brought the experiences of migrant workers to national attention.
In 1960 Johnson was elected Vice President under President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Johnson assumed the presidency. He urged Congress to adopt the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After being reelected in 1964, Johnson urged the nation to “build a great society.” Congress approved Johnson’s unprecedented series of social programs, which became known as the “Great Society.” The Social Security Act was amended to include Medicare for the elderly. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in voting. Welfare programs were implemented to combat poverty and crime. Despite these programs, however, crime and poverty persisted, and race riots plagued the nation.
Johnson also exercised his power as Commander in Chief of the military during the Vietnam War. In 1964 he asked Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving him expanded war power to fight communism in Vietnam. In 1968, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection due to the growing unrest in the country over the Vietnam War. In response to questions about the president’s role as Commander in Chief, and the separation of powers under the Constitution during the administrations of Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973.
In 1971, the printing of classified documents pertaining in part to Johnson’s conduct during the Vietnam War were at the center of the Supreme Court case New York Times v. United States (1971).
In 1963 King spoke at the March on Washington. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King electrified the crowd of 250,000 with his “I Have a Dream” speech. He referred to the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality.
While imprisoned for marching in April 1963, King wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which is regarded as a manifesto of the civil rights movement. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King also led civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Television cameras captured police brutality on peaceful marchers exercising their rights to assemble freely.
Throughout his life, King spoke to crowds who had assembled freely, in order to promote and expand freedom for Americans.
In 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court. Through his career on the bench of the highest Court, Marshall expressed his commitment to the Constitution and principles of equality, individual rights and liberty, authoring opinions in cases including Regents of California v. Bakke (1978). Sometimes known as the “Great Dissenter,” he often broke from majority opinions. He believed capital punishment to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment in all circumstances, and dissented from all rulings that applied the death penalty.