Reconstruction

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Post-Civil War period during which the Republican-controlled Union government took control of former Confederate state governments and tried to force the southern states to grant African Americans equal rights. After the Civil War ended in early 1865 the U.S. government faced fundamental constitutional questions. That the Union was indestructible and states had no right to […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s rulings in these six landmark cases regarding state legislatures are the cornerstone of the reapportionment revolution. These six decisions built on the Supreme Court’s Baker v. Carr[case]Baker v. Carr[Baker v. Carr] (1962) ruling that legislative reapportionment would no longer be considered a political question to be left to legislatures to decide but […]

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Reagan, Ronald

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

President Reagan advanced a philosophy characterized by judicial self-restraint and a reduction of governmental intrusion into people’s lives. Perhaps the greatest impact of this ideology occurred in the Supreme Court, where four of the justices he nominated changed its direction. Ronald Reagan evinced few legal interests in college where he majored in economics, in radio, […]

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Read, John M.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Read was nominated by President John Tyler as an associate justice of the Supreme Court but his antislavery opinions led to his withdrawing from consideration. Read graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1812, was admitted to the bar in 1818, and then served in several city and state jobs. After serving as U.S. district […]

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Rawls, John

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

One of the most important developments in twentieth century legal philosophy, Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness” generated volumes of commentary and dispute among legal and political theorists. Rawls’s later work examines the role of the Supreme Court in a hypothetical, morally just society. In his 1971 treatise A Theory of Justice, John Rawls described […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that a city’s hate speech ordinance violated the First Amendment because it discriminated on the basis of the content of the speech. Responding to a perceived increase in hate speech, many states, communities, and universities in the 1990’s passed ordinances outlawing expressions of hatred. St. Paul, Minnesota, passed an ordinance making […]

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Race and discrimination

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Practice of treating people differently on the basis of their race, skin color, or ethnicity. Racial discrimination may be perpetrated by governments, private persons, or institutions. The first African slavesSlavery;beginnings of in North America arrived at the English colony of Virginia aboard a Dutch ship in 1619. Slavery grew in the English colonies and continued […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During World War II, the Supreme Court allowed the execution of German saboteurs who had been convicted by a military court. Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone wrote the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, upholding a specially established military commission’s conviction and execution of seven German saboteurs. Ex parte Milligan (1866) had held that military […]

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Putzel, Henry, Jr.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During Putzel’s time as a court reporter, the Supreme Court began to prepare headnotes to cases before a decision was announced rather than after, partly because of the advent of electronic communications. Putzel was graduated from Yale Law School in 1938. After World War II began in 1941, he held various positions in the federal […]

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Public use doctrine

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Right of the general public to use property in a way that contributes to the general welfare. In eminent domain cases, this right is superior to any individual’s right. Specific definitions of public use are often a function of economic theory and political philosophy. The Supreme Court broadly interpreted the public use doctrine to mean […]

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Public opinion re the Court

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Views of Supreme Court decisions held by the people of the United States. Like any other governmental institution in a free society, the Supreme Court is ultimately accountable to the people of the United States. Unlike the legislative and executive branches of government, the Court is not directly accountable to the people because its justices […]

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Public lands

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Lands owned by a public authority, chiefly the federal government. After the American Revolution, the Treaty of ParisTreaty of Paris (1783) transferred to the United States all lands held by the British Crown between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The new government of the United States acquired title to these lands in […]

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Public information office

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An office within the Supreme Court administration that provides general information about the Court and its justices to the public. The office was created in 1935 and is responsible for disseminating information about the Supreme Court and the justices, fielding questions from the public, and assisting the news media in covering the court. After orders […]

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Public forum doctrine

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Constitutional doctrine relating to attempts by government bodies to control speech activities on public property. Government bodies in the United States own and manage a variety of property, including streets, parks, and public buildings. In their role as property owners, government bodies often seek to exercise control over the activities that occur on government property, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld a state law when a congressional enactment explicitly delegated the right to regulate a federal activity to the states. By an 8-0 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a South Carolina statute that imposed a tax on insurance premiums for policies written in South Carolina by foreign (out-of-state) insurance companies, but not […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court limited the amount of protection granted to corporate charters under the contracts clause. Rhode Island granted a bank charter to Providence Bank in 1791 and in 1822 sought to impose a tax on the capital stock of all banks including Providence, which claimed it was exempt because no tax was included in […]

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Property rights

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The recognition from the perspective of natural, constitutional, statutory, or common law of the extent to which individuals, business entities, or organizations may acquire, keep, use, and dispose of tangible or intangible things free from interference by others. The Supreme Court’s involvement with property rights issues derives mainly from the Fifth Amendment,Fifth Amendment applicable to […]

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Progressivism

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Period characterized by a variety of reforms and legislation aimed at improving the quality of life by regulating commerce and labor. From the end of the Civil War in 1865 until the end of the nineteenth century, Americans devoted their energy to expansion of the urban and industrial segment of the economy at the expense […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Upholding President Abraham Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports, the Supreme Court declared that the president had a great deal of flexibility when responding to emergency situations. In April, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the actions of Southern states had created a state of insurrection and ordered the blockade and the seizure of ships doing […]

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Privileges and immunities

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Special rights and exemptions provided by law, which are protected from state government abridgment by Article IV of the U.S. Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court has given the privileges and immunities clauses varying interpretations according to what it considered the nation’s exigent political and economic needs. Opinions addressing these provisions illustrate the […]

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Private discrimination

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Unequal and unfair treatment on the basis of such characteristics as race, sex, religion, national origin, and disability, committed not by the government but by individuals and nongovernmental organizations. Through the Civil Rights Act of 1875Civil Rights Act of 1875, Congress prohibited discrimination on the basis of race in inns, conveyances, theaters, and other public […]

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Private corporation charters

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Agreements granted by states or the federal government considering a group of people to be a single entity for the purpose of maintaining an organization or institution beyond the life span of the people in question. Initially given to charitable organizations to operate schools, churches, or hospitals, private corporations charters were issued by state governments […]

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Privacy, right to

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Right to solitude, independence, security in one’s own home and possessions, self-determination, and self-definition. The right to privacy, which is defined in many ways, is not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court interpreted many of the amendments of the Bill of Rights as providing some protection to a variety of elements of […]

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Prior restraint

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The banning or restriction of printed materials before they are published. Reacting to an environment in Great Britain in which both church and state exercised frequent prior restraints, the framers of the U.S. Bill of Rights gave freedom of the press a prominent place in the First Amendment.First Amendment Press freedom, however, sometimes conflicts with […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that a congressional statute intruded on the rights of the states when it required local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers. Two law enforcement officers, Sheriff Jay Printz of Montana and Sheriff Richard Mack of Arizona, challenged the constitutionality of a key provision of the Brady […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that slave owners had the constitutional right to take possession of their property, but state officials could not be required to assist in the process. In 1837 Edward Prigg, an agent of a Maryland slave owner, took possession of a runaway female slave in Pennsylvania. Because of the state’s personal liberty […]

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Pretrial publicity and gag rule

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Before a trial begins, to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial, the amount or kind of information released by trial participants or broadcast or published by the press is often restricted through an order issued by a presiding judge. The roots of restrictive, or gag, orders are found in Sheppard v. Maxwell[case]Sheppard v. […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld an Illinois law that prohibited parading with arms by any groups other than the organized militia. After Herman Presser was convicted for leading a parade of armed members of a fraternal organization, he asserted that the law violated the rights protected by the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Writing for a unanimous […]

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Presidential powers

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The formal constitutional and legal powers of the U.S. president. The first, and in some sense the most important, of Supreme Court actions regarding the presidency arose very early in the constitutional history of the United States. In Marbury v. Madison[case]Marbury v. Madison[Marbury v. Madison] (1803), the seminal case that established the Court’s power of […]

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Pregnancy, disability, and maternity leaves

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Federal and employer-sponsored policies used primarily by working women for childbirth and/or disability related to childbirth. The historical treatment of pregnant working women stems from the traditional societal attitude that the role of a woman is exclusively one of wife and mother. As women began entering the workforce during the Industrial Revolution, many states attempted […]

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Preferred freedoms doctrine

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An attempted ranking of constitutional rights so that some, notably those of the First Amendment, are deemed fundamental to a free society and consequently are given enhanced judicial protection. In the 1930’s the Supreme Court abandoned the doctrine of freedom of contract that had been used since Lochner v. New York[case]Lochner v. New York[Lochner v. […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that prosecutors cannot use peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from juries in criminal trials. Justice Anthony M. KennedyKennedy, Anthony M.;Powers v. Ohio[Powers v. Ohio] wrote the opinion for the 7-2 majority, holding that prosecutors cannot attempt to pack the jury with jurors racially satisfactory to themselves by using peremptory challenges […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court limited the power of Congress to expel its members. African American politician Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.,Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. was reelected to his seat in the House of Representatives. However, because of some allegations regarding misuse of congressional funds based on some improperly filed expense reports, Congress sought to block him from […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this, the first of the Scottsboro cases, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of the seven African Americans convicted of rape. Near Scottsboro, Alabama, nine young African American men were tried on charges of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931. Eight were convicted and sentenced to death. Alabama’s highest […]

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Powell, Lewis F., Jr.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During his fifteen years on the Supreme Court, Powell dominated an ideologically balanced court with his pragmatic, centrist views and his kind and courtly personal manner. Although Powell’s father was eventually successful in business, Powell’s parents were not established socially or economically at the time of his birth. Powell received a bachelor’s and a law […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In one of the most controversial decisions of the late nineteenth century, the Supreme Court ruled a peacetime federal income tax unconstitutional. In the first decision, Justice Melville W. FullerFuller, Melville W.;Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.[Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.] wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court, which was unanimous 8-0 […]

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Pollak, Walter H.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A prominent New York lawyer, Pollak was an able defender of the rights of citizens whose activities or opinions were unpopular in American society. He argued two important freedom of speech cases before the Supreme Court. The descendant of cultured European Jewish immigrants, Pollak graduated from Harvard in 1907 and from Harvard Law School in […]

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Poll taxes

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Procedure initially used to raise revenue. Payment of such taxes eventually took the place of property ownership as a stipulation for voting, frequently keeping the poor, both white and black, from voting. To get around the Fifteenth AmendmentFifteenth Amendment;poll taxes[poll taxes], which guaranteed former male slaves the right to vote, states throughout the South required […]

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Political questions

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Matters not frequently brought before the Supreme Court because they are considered nonjusticiable and not amenable to judicial resolution. Article III, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution presents the categories of federal jurisdiction by outlining fully the types of cases and controversies the Supreme Court may adjudicate. This definitive statement has led the Court to […]

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Political party system

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Democratic process in which people who share common values and political views form organizations, or parties, to promote candidates for public office who hold the same political positions. The political party system in the United States developed outside the Constitution because many of the Founders viewed parties, which they usually referred to as “factions,” as […]

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Political parties

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Private organizations whose aim is to elect individuals who share common beliefs to public office. The internal decisions made by political parties, which are private associations, have largely been left alone by federal and state governments. Political parties are, however, in some ways regulated by the federal and state governments, and it is with regard […]

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Police powers

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Powers to legislate to promote public health, safety, morality, or welfare. As the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts[case]Jacobson v. Massachusetts[Jacobson v. Massachusetts] (1905), state governments possess police powers, presumably having inherited them from the British government at independence. Sometimes states authorize local governments to make police power laws, usually with significant restrictions. Police […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court applied the Sixth Amendment right of the accused to confront witnesses to the states through the incorporation doctrine. An attorney for Pointer objected to the use during his trial of a transcript containing the testimony of a robbery victim who had moved out of state. The testimony was taken at a preliminary […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court used heightened scrutiny in holding that the denial of educational benefits to the children of undocumented aliens violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1975 the state of Texas revised its education laws, encouraging local school boards to deny enrollment of children whose parents had not been legally admitted […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit government-mandated segregation as long as accommodations were equal for both races. During the late nineteenth century, southern state legislatures enacted many laws requiring segregation. Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890 provided for “equal but separate accommodations for the white […]

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Plea bargaining

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Process of negotiations through which criminal cases are adjudicated without the defendants exercising their right to trial. Plea bargaining is the process engaged in by prosecutors and defense attorneys in criminal cases to attempt to arrive at satisfactory dispositions of cases without the need to conduct trials. Such dispositions may result in tangible benefits for […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Although the Supreme Court reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus attains viability, it rejected the trimester framework and allowed states to enact abortion restrictions that did not place an “undue burden” on the woman’s right. In the landmark case Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court ruled that a […]

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Pitney, Mahlon

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During his tenure on the Supreme Court, Pitney was noted for his meticulously crafted and staunchly conservative opinions, particularly those in the area of labor organization. Pitney was the son of a prominent attorney who eventually became vice chancellor of New Jersey. Pitney entered Princeton (then called the College of New Jersey) in 1875. He […]

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Pinkney, William

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Pinkney’s most significant contributions were made through his advocacy before the Supreme Court. He demonstrated a genius for argumentation and a commitment to constitutional government. Pinkney, who aspired to be a physician, entered the study of law through the invitation of Samuel Chase. In the 1780’s Pinkney developed his legal and political career in Maryland; […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Reinforcing a 1923 decision, the Supreme Court again applied the doctrine of substantive due process to strike down a law for infringing on a noneconomic liberty. In 1922 the voters of Oregon approved an initiative that required most children between eight and sixteen to attend public schools. A private parochial school contended that the regulation […]

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Petition, right of

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Right of the people to ask their government to redress their grievances. The First Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” As is true of most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, this right […]

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Peters, Richard

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A challenge to Peters’s attempt to edit and sell Supreme Court reports to the public resulted in a suit and ultimately a Court ruling that Court opinions were in the public domain. Peters was the son of a well-known Revolutionary patriot, Pennsylvania legislator, and judge. He was appointed the fourth Supreme Court reporter when his […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld veterans’ hiring preferences in public employment as nondiscriminatory toward women. A Massachusetts statute gave absolute lifetime preference for veterans for hiring in public employment despite the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. When some women were not hired despite having higher scores than veterans on civil service examinations, they claimed […]

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Pepper, George W.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An avowed opponent of New Deal politics, Pepper argued a test case involving the constitutionality of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 before the Supreme Court. Pepper graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1887 and its law school in 1889, then began a successful practice in constitutional and corporate law in Philadelphia. In 1893 […]

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Peonage

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Status or condition of involuntary servitude in which one person must work for another in order to pay off a debt. Despite the Thirteenth Amendment’sThirteenth Amendment;peonage[peonage] command that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime…shall exist within the United States,” forced systems of labor came to dominate the market for African […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for mentally retarded but legally sane people. Defendant Penry was moderately mentally retarded but judged legally sane so that he could be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for murder and rape in Texas. Justice Sandra Day O’ConnorO’Connor, Sandra Day[OConnor, Sandra Day];Penry v. Lynaugh[Penry v. Lynaugh] wrote the opinion […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this case, the result of an unusual chain of events, the Supreme Court set the standard for the height of bridges above navigable rivers throughout the 1800’s. By 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court held that the bridge Virginia built from Wheeling (later West Virginia) to the western states was a nuisance because it interfered […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court began to move away from blanket approval of anticommunist legislation Chief Justice Earl WarrenWarren, Earl;Pennsylvania v. Nelson[Pennsylvania v. Nelson] wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority, upholding the Pennsylvania supreme court in overturning the conviction of CommunistCommunism Party leader Steve Nelson on a state antisedition law. The Supreme Court decided that federal […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court first held that a regulation regarding land use may constitute a taking. Justice Oliver Wendell HolmesHolmes, Oliver Wendell;Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon[Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon] wrote the opinion for the 8-1 majority. Holmes ruled that a Pennsylvania statute regulated land to such an extent that a coal company could not access […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court established the basic rules covering people who were not citizens or residents of states. To secure judgment in a contract suit, a plaintiff in Oregon attached the real property of a noncitizen, nonresident of Oregon by constructive service through a legal notice in a local newspaper. By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court established several important principles governing the takings impact of regulations. After a local preservation committee made New York’s Grand Central Station a national landmark, Penn Central was denied the right to build a fifty-story building on arches over the train terminal. New York City allowed Penn Central certain “transferable development rights” to […]

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Peckham, Wheeler H.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Peckham’s unsuccessful nomination to the Supreme Court, coupled with the failed nomination of fellow New Yorker William B. Hornblower, opened the way for the appointment of Louisiana Senator Edward D. White in 1894. Born in Albany, New York, Peckham graduated from Albany Law School in 1855 and gained public attention in 1868 by successfully arguing […]

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Peckham, Rufus W.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During his Supreme Court tenure, Peckham wrote some of the major opinions protecting the liberty to contract and consistently voted to strike down government regulation of economic freedoms. Born in New York, Peckham followed in his father and brother’s footsteps when choosing a law career. He rose through the New York Democratic Party ranks. He […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court declared that police need an arrest warrant before they make a nonconsensual entrance into an accused’s residence to make an arrest. Justice John Paul StevensStevens, John Paul;Payton v. New York[Payton v. New York] wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, declaring that an arrest warrant was needed before […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court allowed victim impact statements to be included in the capital sentencing phase of trials. After convicting Payne of murder, the prosecutor called some of the victim’s family to testify in the penalty phase and referred to those statements during closing arguments. Upon being sentenced to die, Payne appealed to the Supreme Court, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld a state law placing special burdens on out-of-state insurance companies, ruling that a corporation was not protected by the privileges and immunities clause and that insurance sales were not transactions in interstate commerce. During the nineteenth century, many states encouraged the growth of in-state insurance companies by charging special taxes and […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reargued this racial discrimination case, apparently intending to overturn a remaining provision of the 1866 Civil Rights Act, but backed off in the face of widespread controversy. In Patterson, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether an African AmericanAfrican Americans;employment discrimination[employment discrimination] woman’s charge of racially motivated employment harassment was a […]

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Paterson, William

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While serving on the Supreme Court, Paterson participated in several important cases in American jurisprudence that established the Constitution as the law of the land. Born in Ireland, Paterson is one of only six Supreme Court justices born in a foreign country. Paterson graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1763 and […]

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Patent

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Exclusive rights for original artistic and intellectual properties granted for limited times to their authors and inventors. The issuance of patents in the United States is mandated in Article I, section 8, of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the right “to promote Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court banned taxes levied by states on incoming passengers, holding that such taxes directly regulated interstate commerce. Smith v. Turner and Norris v. Boston, together known as the Passenger Cases, involved New York and Massachusetts taxes on inbound passengers, including citizens of other countries. By a 5-4 vote, a badly divided Supreme Court […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court eased the stringency of the requirements governing desegregation in public schools. Justice William H. RehnquistRehnquist, William H.;Pasadena Board of Education v. Spangler[Pasadena Board of Education v. Spangler] wrote the opinion for the 6-2 majority, holding that the Pasadena, California, school board (and other similarly situated boards) did not have to make annual […]

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Parker, John J.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The only Supreme Court appointee rejected for confirmation during the seventy-five-year period between 1894 and 1969, Parker, as an appellate court judge, later showed himself to be a much more liberal jurist, in both economic and social issues, than many of his critics charged. Born in Monroe, North Carolina, Parker graduated from the University of […]

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Pardon power

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The authority to exempt a person from a punishment determined by the normal judicial process, granted to the president by Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The pardon power is granted by Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which says that the president “shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons against the United […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court voided a congressional enactment on the grounds that it unconstitutionally made a vague delegation of power to executive branch agencies. In Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan[case]Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan[Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan], Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States[case]Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States[Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States] (1935), and […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court refused to seek out racially discriminatory intent in cases in which local government decisions were neutral on face. Justice Hugo L. BlackBlack, Hugo L.;Palmer v. Thompson[Palmer v. Thompson] wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority, upholding the decision of the city of Jackson, Mississippi, to close a public swimming pool rather than […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld state use of the initiative and referendum to make laws as being compatible with the Constitution’s promise of a republican form of government. Oregon, along with other relatively new Western states, used initiatives and referendums to give voters the option of legislating directly on some questions. The state used this power […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In the face of a challenge brought by business, the Supreme Court upheld sizable punitive awards made by juries. Justice Harry A. BlackmunBlackmun, Harry A.;Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip[Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip] wrote the opinion for the 7-1 majority, upholding a sizable punitive damage award made in Alabama. Earlier, the […]

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Otto, William T.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Otto was the first Supreme Court reporter to issue volumes of the United States Reports without his name on the spines. Born in Philadelphia, Otto moved to Indiana after studying law. In Indiana, he established himself as a distinguished lawyer, judge, and professor of law. A supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Otto received an appointment in […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld statutes making mere possession of child pornography a crime. By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a law that made it illegal to simply possess child pornography. As in New York v. Ferber[case]New York v. Ferber[New York v. Ferber] (1982), the Court found that the importance of protecting children from […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court overturned a state tax on a federal corporation, affirming the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. Chief Justice John MarshallMarshall, James;Osborn v. Bank of the United States[Osborn v. Bank of the United States] wrote the opinion for the 6-1 majority, using an elaborate defense of federal judicial power to uphold […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that Alabama’s law making husbands, but not wives, liable for alimony payments was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Craig v. Boren[case]Craig v. Boren[Craig v. Boren] (1976), the Court had announced that it would henceforth evaluate gender classifications according to a heightened scrutinyJudicial scrutiny standard. […]

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Original intent

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Approach to judicial interpretation asserting that both laws and provisions of the U.S. Constitution should be construed according to the intentions of those who first framed them. After Marbury v. Madison[case]Marbury v. Madison[Marbury v. Madison] (1803), in which the Supreme Court claimed for itself the power to interpret the U.S. Constitution and review acts of […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court struck down a tax on an out-of-state solid waste fee that was three times higher than the in-state tax on solid waste. Oregon placed a higher tax on solid wastes coming from out of state than those originating within the state. Oregon courts had determined that the tax was merely compensatory; however, […]

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, , and

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The confusion created by the Supreme Court’s fragmented decision, which established different minimum voting ages for federal and state elections, was eliminated through the passage of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which made the minimum voting age eighteen in all elections. As a part of the 1970 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights ActVoting Rights Act of […]

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Oral argument

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Spoken presentation to the Supreme Court given by the litigants’ lawyers. During oral argument, the justices question the lawyers about any arguments in the written briefs that may need further clarification before the argument receives the full confidence of the Court. In a few cases, oral arguments leave justices with a different impression of the […]

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Opinions, writing of

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Written statements explaining the Supreme Court’s decision in a case. Opinions fall into four types: opinions of the Court (majority opinions), judgments of the Court (plurality opinions), concurring opinions, and dissenting opinions. Many of the modern procedures regarding the assignment and writing of opinions were initiated shortly after 1801, when Chief Justice John MarshallMarshall, John […]

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Olney, Richard

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As U.S. attorney general, Olney argued three major cases before the Supreme Court. Olney was educated at Brown College (1851-1856) and Harvard Law School (1856-1858). Between 1876 and 1879, he reorganized the financially distressed Eastern Railroad Company of Massachusetts and became the attorney for its subsidiary, Eastern Railroad (1884). In 1889 Olney became general counsel […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court allowed federal prosecutors in a criminal trial to use evidence obtained by wiretaps placed on outside telephone lines without a warrant, based on the idea that conversations were not protected by the Fourth Amendment. The ruling was reversed thirty-nine years later. In convicting Roy Olmstead of illegally selling intoxicating liquors, federal prosecutors […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld a law requiring that one parent of an unmarried minor be notified before the performance of an abortion, unless the abortion was authorized by a court. By a 6-3 margin, the Supreme Court found that the Ohio regulations did not place too many obstacles on applicants. In order to obtain a […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ceased to use the substantive due process concept to overrule legislative judgments in economic liberty cases. Justice Louis D. BrandeisBrandeis, Louis D. wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority, upholding a New Jersey statute that regulated the fees insurance companies paid to their local agents. Previously, the Supreme Court would have struck […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court allowed states to provide bankruptcy relief in the absence of national legislation. In Sturges v. Crowninshield[case]Sturges v. Crowninshield[Sturges v. Crowninshield] (1819), the Supreme Court struck down a state’s insolvency statute that provided relief for debts incurred before passage of the statute. Responding to the distress in the wake of the Panic of […]

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Obscenity and pornography

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An obscenity is an utterance or act that is morally or ethically offensive; pornography is the depiction of erotic behavior intended to arouse sexual excitement. Obscenity is one of several categories of speech deemed unprotectedUnprotected speech by the First Amendment in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire[case]Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire[Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire] (1942). In this case, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s ruling limited the concept of symbolic speech and affirmed the distinction between thought and action in expression cases. During the Vietnam War, some students, including David O’Brien, protested the war by burning their draft cards (selective service registration certificates). O’Brien, convicted for destroying a document he was required to keep, challenged the […]

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Nullification

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The theory that the states are the final arbiters of the limits of national authority and that each may veto the enforcement of federal laws it determines to be unconstitutional, at least within its own boundaries. First articulated by Thomas Jefferson,Jefferson, Thomas in his draft of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, nullification rests on the […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court seriously undermined the anticommunist Smith Act (1940) by holding that mere membership in an alleged subversive group is not enough to show intent to commit conspiracy. Freedom of association is often called into question by indictments for conspiracy because it is alleged that some associations are conspiracies to use violence to overthrow […]

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Northwest Ordinance

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Ordinance passed by the Congress of the Confederation, laying out the governmental organization of the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Ordinance was drawn up by the Congress of the Confederation to regulate the settlement and political organization of the Northwest Territory,Territories and new states the land lying north of the Ohio River and east of the […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court found that a large holding company was an unlawful combination within the meaning of the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890). The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was of limited success in controlling corporate power during its first decade. After Theodore RooseveltRoosevelt, Theodore became president in 1901, he inaugurated a popular campaign to dissolve […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In its second Scottsboro rape decision, the Supreme Court held that the African American defendants had been denied a fair trial because African Americans had been systematically excluded from juries. In Powell v. Alabama[case]Powell v. Alabama[Powell v. Alabama] (1932), the Supreme Court ruled that the conviction of the “Scottsboro boys,” a group of young African […]

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Nominations to the Court

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Selection of candidates for an associate justice or chief justice position on the Supreme Court by the president. In each case, selection must be followed by confirmation (approval by a majority of the Senate). This path to Court membership is essentially an American practice. It stems from historical precedent established in colonial times, when appointments […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court expanded a property owner’s rights in eminent domain cases by requiring that the state show a substantial connection between the harm asserted by the state and its proposed remedy. The Nollans owned a small beachfront house they wished to expand. As a condition for a permit, California asked the Nollans to grant […]

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