History Summaries

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that all public schools must open their doors for afterschool religious activities on the same basis that school policy permits other after-hour activities. In an earlier decision, Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District[c]Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District[Lambs Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School […]

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Ginsburg, Ruth Bader

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As the second female appointee to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg acquired the reputation of being a moderately liberal justice and continued to pursue her earlier commitment to use law to combat gender discrimination. The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Ruth Bader Ginsburg completed her undergraduate studies at Cornell University in 1954 and received her law […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In this watershed ruling, the Supreme Court supported the federal license of a steamboat operator over a state monopoly license holder, thus expanding federal control through the Constitution’s commerce clause. Aaron Ogden had a New York license giving him the exclusive right to operate a steamship between New Jersey and the port of New York […]

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Gay and lesbian rights

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Constitutional and statutory protections against legal discrimination based on homosexual orientation. Although the U.S. Constitution does not directly assign any rights to persons based on their sexual orientation, the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the federal and state governments from arbitrarily depriving a person of liberty. Also, the equal protection […]

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Fundamental rights

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Notion that a select number of constitutional rights are so essential to American traditions of liberty and justice that they deserve special recognition and protection. When making his proposal for a Bill of RightsBill of Rights in 1789, James MadisonMadison, James;and Bill of Rights[Bill of rights] did not declare that all of his suggested amendments […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits hospitals from testing pregnant women for illegal drugs without their consent if the purpose is to notify the police of illegal behavior. A public hospital of Charleston, South Carolina, reacting to the growing number of “crack babies,” instituted a program of automatically testing maternity patients for […]

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Eleventh Amendment

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits lawsuits in federal courts against states by citizens of other states or of foreign countries. Ratified in 1795, the Eleventh Amendment was the first amendment added to the U.S. Constitution following the adoption of the Bill of Rights. It was adopted specifically to overrule a Supreme Court decision, […]

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Censorship

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Narrowly defined, censorship is a governmental system for controlling beforehand which publications and expressions are permitted. Broadly defined, the word refers to all restrictions–particularly those of governments–on speech, publications, and performances. The eighteenth century framers of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution intended to prohibit most government prior restraints on publications, especially the practice […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The fourth footnote in the Court opinion in this case proposes the use of strict judicial scrutiny when considering explicit constitutional guarantees and discrimination against minorities. Called “the most famous footnote in American constitutional history,” it later provided a theoretical foundation for judicial activism in defense of minorities and fundamental rights. While upholding a relatively […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

By ordering the end to all recounts of Florida’s presidential ballots in the 2000 election, the Supreme Court in effect decided that George W. Bush, not Albert Gore, would be the next president. After votes were counted on the evening of the presidential election of November, 2000, the outcome depended on whether George W. Bush […]

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Breyer, Stephen G.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A respected expert in the fields of administrative, antitrust, and environmental law, Breyer has been widely recognized to be a pragmatic and conciliatory justice, even as he has usually voted with the liberal wing of the Court. Raised in a middle-class, politically active Jewish family in San Francisco, Stephen G. Breyer was an outstanding student […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Emphasizing that private organizations have the rights of free expression and free association under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court held that government could not force the Boy Scouts to accept openly gay adults to work with the group. After enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,Civil Rights Act of 1964 several state legislatures […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that Congress has no constitutional authority to outlaw computer-generated depiction of children that is sexually oriented but not legally obscene. The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 (CPPA) criminalized all forms of child pornography, including computer-generated images that portray minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The […]

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Americans with Disabilities Act

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-ranging civil rights statute that prohibits numerous kinds of discrimination against persons with physical or mental handicaps in both public and private sectors. The statute emphasizes two major forms of discrimination: in employment and in physical barriers to buildings, transportation, and public services. Often described as the […]

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Alito, Samuel A., Jr.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As a judge of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for sixteen years, Alito established a reputation as a hard-working, highly competent, and generally conservative judge. When he replaced the moderate swing voter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, on the Court, most observers expected that his tenure would move the Court in a more […]

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Age discrimination

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Inequality of opportunities, services, or treatment based on age, most often affecting older persons. During the 1970’s, a number of older government workers went to court alleging employment discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In reviewing these cases, the Supreme Court decided that age was not a suspect category, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that newspaper offices do not have any special protection from searches and seizures. Local police clashed with demonstrators at Stanford University Hospital, and the school paper, The Stanford Daily, printed a photograph of the ruckus. Police hoped to find more photographs and obtained a warrant to search the paper’s office where, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld a released-time program on the grounds that the religious instruction did not take place on school property or require the expenditure of public funds, and there was no evidence that students were being pressured into attending the religious classes. In Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education[case]Illinois ex rel. McCollum […]

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Zoning

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Premier land-use regulation method in the United States, which divides urban areas into different sectors or zones, with different uses and regulations and requirements. The police powerPolice powers, which is the right of government to regulate public health, safety, and welfare, gives zoning its legitimacy. State constitutions and statutes enable local governments to create their […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During the Korean War, the Supreme Court disallowed the president’s right to invoke emergency powers in order to seize and operate private businesses without prior congressional approval. Fearful that a long strike would damage the war effort, President Harry S Truman issued an executive order instructing the secretary of commerce to take over the steel […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reinforced the doctrine of abstention, prohibiting federal judges from intervening in most state court proceedings before they have been finalized. During the controversial Vietnam War, John Harris, Jr., was indicted in a California court for violating a criminal syndicalism statute that was virtually identical to the law that had been ruled unconstitutional […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld zoning ordinances that significantly restricted the location of theaters and bookstores dealing in sexually explicit materials. Detroit’s anti-Skid Row ordinance required that adult stores (those dealing in sexually explicit materials) be dispersed and that they be located at least five hundred feet from residential areas. The ordinance applied to all erotic […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Although federal courts had not been allowed to intervene in pending state court proceedings, the Supreme Court held that in extraordinary circumstances, a federal court may issue an injunction ordering state officials not to enforce a state statute until its validity has been decided in court. A 1907 Minnesota law reduced railroad rates and imposed […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court clearly expanded the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment but its decision in this case was ignored until the mid-twentieth century. In a move that clearly targeted Chinese laundries, San Francisco required all laundries to have an operating license approved by the board of supervisors. These licenses were granted only to laundries in […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In reversing the convictions of some Communist Party leaders under the 1940 Smith Act, the Supreme Court signaled a change in the direction of its treatment of unpopular organizations. Fourteen leaders in the Communist Party were convicted of conspiracy under the 1940 Smith Act. The facts of this case almost exactly match those of Dennis […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

This 1884 decision is the only nineteenth century case in which the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment by punishing private individuals for obstructing a citizen’s right to vote. In Ex parte Yarbrough, also known as the Ku Klux Klan case, Jasper Yarbrough and his fellow Klansmen were convicted in […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In approving the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, the Supreme Court upheld congressional power to limit judicial review in lower federal courts and to authorize an administrative agency to use wide latitude in fixing maximum prices and rents. Soon after the United States entered World War II in 1941, Congress established the Office of […]

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Wyatt, Walter

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The summaries that reporter Wyatt wrote for all the Supreme Court opinions became a standard feature of some case law referencing systems. Wyatt received his legal training, which included an editorial position at the law school’s journal, at the University of Virginia. He then began as a law clerk at the federal reserve in 1917. […]

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World War II

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A conflict waged by Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States against Germany, Italy, and Japan, formally declared in December, 1941. During the conflict, within the United States, numerous economic and other regulations came into force and some civil liberties were suspended or limited. Late in the nineteenth century, Justice Stephen J. […]

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World War I

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A conflict between the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire). The United States entered World War I in April of 1917, generating the need to create a mass army comparable to the armies of the great European powers; to train, equip, […]

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Workload

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Burdens and responsibilities of the Supreme Court justices. The workload of the Supreme Court can be measured in part by the number of filings, or cases it is asked to decide. Filings rose from 51 in 1803, to 723 in 1900, and to 2,296 in 1960. By 1970 the number of filings had almost doubled, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction over territories owned by Native Americans. It also recognized that the tribes retained significant claims to sovereignty. The Reverend Samuel Worcester was a Christian missionary who was convicted and imprisoned for disobeying a Georgia law that required white men to have a state license […]

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Woodward, George W.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Woodward’s appointment to the Supreme Court was opposed by Democrats, who objected to his nativist stance. Woodward practiced law in Pennsylvania, becoming a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention and rising to a judgeship. President James K. Polk appointed him to the Supreme Court in September, 1845, to replace Henry Baldwin. Woodward’s nativist politics, however, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that laws requiring a mandatory death penalty were inconsistent with the Eighth Amendment. Following Furman v. Georgia[case]Furman v. Georgia[Furman v. Georgia] (1972), North Carolina enacted a statute requiring the death penalty for persons convicted of first-degree murder. Woodson, an accomplice in a robbery/murder, asserted that the law was unconstitutional. In a […]

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Woods, William B.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While on the Supreme Court, Woods wrote more opinions than any other associate justice. He was noted for his understanding of complicated issues, particularly the civil rights of African Americans, patent cases, and interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. After graduating from Yale in 1845 and studying law in Newark, Ohio, Woods was admitted to the […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that the states could levy nondiscriminatory sales taxes on goods from other states. The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from taxing imports, and it authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce. In Brown v. Maryland[case]Brown v. Maryland[Brown v. Maryland] (1827), the Supreme Court interpreted these two provisions to mean that the states could […]

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Woodbury, Levi

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

While serving on the Supreme Court, Woodbury wrote his most notable opinions in dissent, usually taking a states’ rights, strict constructionist view of the Constitution. He vigorously supported the improvement of education. Woodbury graduated from Dartmouth in 1809, studied law at Litchfield Law School, and was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1812. In […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court protected the long-standing meaning of the first portion of the Fourteenth Amendment regarding citizenship in the face of government attempts to render it meaningless. Wong Kim Ark, a person of Chinese descent born in the United States, was denied entry to the United States when trying to return from a visit to […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Taking a broad view of economic freedom, the Supreme Court placed the majority of businesses outside the reach of state regulations. The 1920 Court Industrial Relations Act of Kansas provided for compulsory arbitration of laborLabor disputes in several key industries and authorized a regulatory commission to decide wages and working conditions in many circumstances. The […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment’s freedom from unreasonable searches is binding on the states because it is fundamental to the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of ordered liberty, but the Court also decided that state courts were not required to use the exclusionary rule. When Julius Wolf was convicted in state court for practicing […]

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Wolcott, Alexander

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Wolcott, a Democratic-Republican Party boss, was the first Supreme Court nominee to be rejected by the Senate because of doubts about his judicial abilities. A Connecticut boss of the Democratic-Republican Party, Wolcott was well-known for his zealous enforcement of the Embargo (1807-1809) while serving as U.S. collector of customs. When Justice William Cushing died in […]

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Witnesses, confrontation of

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The right, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, of criminal defendants to have the witnesses against them testify in open court, face to face with them and the fact-finder, and to cross-examine those witnesses. The Sixth Amendment’sSixth Amendment confrontation clause fosters reliability and fairness in federal and state prosecutions. It allows criminal defendants to […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Using the compelling interest standard, the Supreme Court held that a state could not require the children of some religious sects to attend high school. Wisconsin’s compulsory school-attendance law required children to attend public or private schools until the age of sixteen. The Old Order Amish ChurchOld Order Amish Church was opposed to formal education […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a state law that increased the sentence for a crime in which the defendant intentionally selected the victim on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or similar characteristics. In 1989 Todd Mitchell and several other young African Americans were discussing the white racism depicted in […]

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Wirt, William

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As a well-known trial lawyer and U.S. attorney general, Wirt, a champion of strong federal authority, argued many precedent-setting cases before the Supreme Court. Wirt was admitted to the Virginia state bar in 1792. His growing reputation as a trial lawyer in highprofile cases, such as Aaron Burr’s treason trial, eventually led to his appointment […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that any judicial proceeding involving a possible loss of liberty, including juvenile courts, must use the standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In the landmark case, In re Gault[case]Gault, In re[Gault, In re] (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that juvenile courts must apply the fundamental procedural guarantees of due process […]

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Wilson, Woodrow

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Wilson was an individualist who believed in the power of Congress and the Constitution. His three appointments to the Supreme Court demonstrated his Progressive views and his appreciation for political support rendered him. Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, grew up in the post-Civil War South. A studious individual, he studied at the University […]

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Wilson, James

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

One of the first six justices on the first Supreme Court, Wilson ended his career in disgrace. Born into a poor farming family in Scotland, Wilson received a university education at his family’s expense because his parents hoped he would enter the ministry. After his father’s death in 1763, Wilson decided that his options were […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s decision signaled a retreat from the strong nationalistic position the Court took in an 1824 case. A Delaware statute allowed the Blackbird Creek Marsh Company to dam a minor navigable stream to drain a swamp. In Gibbons v. Ogden[case]Gibbons v. Ogden[Gibbons v. Ogden] (1824), the Supreme Court took a strong nationalistic stand […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ignored its 1886 ruling and upheld the murder conviction of an African American in a trial in which no African Americans served on the jury. Williams, an African American from Mississippi, had been convicted of murder by an all-white jury. Williams argued, in line with Yick Wo v. Hopkins[case]Yick Wo v. Hopkins[Yick […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court authorized a reduction in the size of juries from twelve to six. Defendant Williams was convicted of a felony by a six-member jury because Florida allowed six-person juries for all criminal cases except capital murder. Williams argued that the smaller jury denied him of his Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. […]

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Williams, George H.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Nominated for the position of chief justice, Williams withdrew his name from consideration before the Senate could act. A Democrat who opposed the expansion of slavery, George H. Williams joined the Republican Party in 1864. That same year the Oregon state legislature elected Williams to the U.S. Senate. Aligned with the Radical Republicans, Williams was […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Upheld a broad presidential power over removal of executive officials but limited removal of quasi-judicial officials In Myers v. United States[case]Myers v. United States[Myers v. United States] (1926), the Supreme Court upheld a virtually unchecked presidential power to remove officials, but this power had been limited by Humphrey’s Executor v. United States[case]Humphrey’s Executor v. United […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court expanded the definition of interstate commerce to justify federal regulation supporting much New Deal legislation. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, part of the New Deal legislation, placed quotas on the amount of grain that could be produced. Roscoe Filburn was a small farmer who raised wheat for […]

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Whittaker, Charles E.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During five years on the Supreme Court, Whittaker functioned as a swing vote until forced to retire because of ill health. Whittaker was born on a farm near Troy, Kansas, in 1901. Press coverage of a notorious murder case sparked his interest in law, but he dropped out of school after the death of his […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court refined the clear and present danger concept to clearly require an imminence test. Charlotte Whitney was a member of the International Workers of the World (IWW) and briefly a member of the Communist Labor Party, which advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government. There was no indication that Whitney did more than […]

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White primaries

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Legislation in one-party southern states beginning in 1923 that prevented African Americans from voting in primary elections. In Newberry v. United States[case]Newberry v. United States[Newberry v. United States] (1921), the Supreme Court declared that primaries were not constitutionally protected as elections and could not be controlled by Congress. Although African Americans could not be prevented […]

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White, Edward D.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During his twenty-seven years on the Supreme Court, White was the first associate justice elevated to chief justice. His legacy consists less of legal doctrine than of ceremonial procedure. White introduced the informal handshaking tradition before each Court conference to ameliorate ideological contentiousness. The only native of Louisiana to serve on the Supreme Court, White […]

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White, Byron R.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A key figure on the Supreme Court under Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist who, though viewed by many as something of an enigma, was often a swing vote. White wrote several important opinions regarding the power of the press and led the Court in crafting a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. White […]

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Wheaton, Henry

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

As the first officially appointed Supreme Court reporter, Wheaton virtually created the office. He displayed common prejudices of his times, and his reports were often verbose and tardy, but his thorough knowledge of law and cordial relationships with the justices set positive and practical precedents. A graduate of Rhode Island College (later Brown University), Wheaton […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reaffirmed an earlier ruling in holding that states could not tax instruments of the federal government. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, sought to place a tax on the earnings from bonds issued by the U.S. government. The Supreme Court, by a 4-2 vote, ruled that this tax was unconstitutional. It reaffirmed […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and established that children could not be required to salute the flag in school ceremonies. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Minersville School District v. Gobitis[case]Minersville School District v. Gobitis[Minersville School District v. Gobitis] (1940), in which the Court upheld state-required flag salutes in school […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court expanded eminent domain to prevail over contracts the state made with private parties and further established that police power cannot be contracted away. The state of Vermont had signed a one-hundred-year contract with the West River Bridge Company but later decided to build a free road over the toll bridge. Although the […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Abandoning its long-standing freedom of contract doctrine, the Supreme Court allowed states great discretion in regulating working conditions and protecting the rights of employees. In 1935 Elsie Parrish, a resident of the state of Washington, was discharged from her job with the West Coast Hotel Company. She was being paid twenty-five cents an hour, which […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court required that U.S. congressional districts within a given state be as nearly equal in population as possible. A congressional district in Georgia that had a population several times greater than that of other districts brought a class-action suit in order to address the state’s failure to reapportion its districts. Following Baker v. […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court overturned a provision of the Social Security Act that awarded benefits to widows but not widowers. In the aftermath of Reed v. Reed[case]Reed v. Reed[Reed v. Reed] (1971), in which the Supreme Court ruled that classifying by gender is an equal protection violation, the Court faced the problem that many “benign” classifications […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court overturned a sentence as cruel and unusual for the first time, interpreting the term as referring to punishments that were unnecessarily cruel and grossly excessive for the crime. Paul Weems, a coast guard officer in the Philippines, was found guilty of falsifying the public record and sentenced to fifteen years at cadena, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court created the federal exclusionary rule in criminal cases. State officers and a federal marshal conducted a warrantless arrest and search that led to Weeks’s conviction on a charge of using the mail to transport lottery tickets. He challenged the use of the seized materials in court, saying they had been illegally taken. […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court substantially expanded the ability of the states to place restrictions on the availability of abortion services. In 1986 the state of Missouri enacted an abortion statute that included three major provisions: a preamble declaring that human life “begins at conception” and that “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being”; […]

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Webster, Daniel

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Webster, a skilled orator, argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court, supporting federalism and Congress’s power to regulate commerce, and combating slavery. Webster, an orator famous for his skills at argument before the Supreme Court, was born in New Hampshire. After being admitted to the bar in 1805, he practiced in his native state until […]

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Wayne, James M.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

An expert in admiralty law, Wayne helped expand the power of the federal government over waterborne commerce as a Supreme Court justice. Although a Southerner and a defender of slavery, he supported the Union during the Civil War. Wayne began practicing law in 1810, served in the Georgia legislature from 1815 to 1817, and was […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

When a congressional committee conducts an investigation, the due process clause requires that it must clearly articulate the subject matter of the investigation and that all questions must be pertinent to the investigation. During the early years of the Cold War, the House Un-American Activities Committee asked broad-ranging questions of people suspected of having supported […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee any right to have assistance in committing suicide. In Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health[case]Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health[Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health] (1990), the Supreme Court “assumed and strongly suggested” that the due process clause of the Fourteenth […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs must show a discriminatory intent, not merely a disparate impact, to prevail under the equal protection requirements of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. In 1970 African American plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of a hiring and promotion policy of the District of Columbia police department. They objected to the use […]

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Washington, George

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Washington epitomized the self-restraint that is at the heart of democratic government. His judicial values (rule of law, moderation, and magnanimity) and appointments left an enduring legacy for the world’s first large experiment in self-government. Washington inherited and married into wealth but was deprived of a formal education because of the early loss of his […]

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Washington, Bushrod

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Washington, a Federalist like many of his fellow Supreme Court justices, tended to join with the majority on the Court, although he expressed his opinion more openly as a circuit judge. Washington was the son of John Augustine Washington and Hannah Bushrod and the favorite nephew of President George Washington.Washington, George He initially met John […]

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Wartime seizure power

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Power of the U.S. government to seize the property of citizens, businesses, and persons identified with an enemy power during a time of war. Wartime seizure power may be directed at both foreign and domestic property. Although substantial resources are available to redirect the nation’s economy in support of armed conflict or national defense, Congress […]

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Warren, Earl

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Under Warren’s leadership, the Supreme Court forged new doctrines in equal justice and fair trial procedures and altered the character of representation in the political system. The Warren Court’s due process revolution produced profound changes in the law and transformed the way society perceived civil liberties and civil rights. The son of Scandinavian immigrants, Warren […]

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Warren, Charles

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Warren was a pioneering historian of American law, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history of the Supreme Court. Warren enjoyed two successful, parallel careers. He was a respected attorney, political activist, and government official as well as an illustrious legal scholar and constitutional historian. After Harvard Law School and admission to the bar […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court established that U.S. treaties prevail over conflicting state laws. The 1783 Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War specified that the newly independent states would not interfere with the collection of prewar debts, but Virginia passed a law allowing its citizens to pay the Virginia treasury in depreciated currency and receive a […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court shifted the burden of proof from employers to employees in employment discrimination cases, making them harder to win. Alaskan cannery workers claimed that a higher proportion of nonwhites were employed at low-paying jobs while a higher percentage of white workers held high-paying jobs. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled against […]

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War Powers Act of 1973

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Congressional joint resolution placing certain restrictions and reporting requirements on the president’s deployment of military forces in hostilities. The War Powers Act (formally the War Powers Resolution) was an effort by Congress to regain lost influence in U.S. military policy. Specifically, the act, passed on November 7, 1973, over a veto by President Richard M. […]

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War powers

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The constitutional and political authority to protect the nation from its enemies and to place U.S. military forces abroad in hostile situations. Article I, section 8, of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to tax and spend for the common defense, to declare war, to raise and support armies and a navy, and to […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld property tax relief for religious institutions. Chief Justice Warren E. BurgerBurger, Warren E.;Walz v. Tax Commission[Walz v. Tax Commission] wrote the opinion for the 8-1 majority, holding that New York state’s exemption of religious institutions from paying property taxes did not violate the establishment of religion clause. The Supreme Court found […]

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Walworth, Reuben H.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Senate failed to act on Walworth’s appointment to the Supreme Court, probably because President John Tyler, who had appointed him, lacked support. Born in Connecticut, Walworth studied law and began his practice in New York, where he was admitted to the bar in 1809 and rose to a judgeship in 1817. After serving as […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Applying an expansive interpretation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court struck down a state law that authorized schools to devote a minute of silence for “meditation or voluntary prayer.” The majority of the public, especially in the South, disagreed with Engel v. Vitale[case]Engel v. Vitale[Engel v. Vitale] (1962), which had […]

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Wallace, John W.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Wallace was the last Supreme Court reporter whose name was used in official citations of cases. Wallace followed his father into the study of law. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1833, but instead of going into practice, found himself attracted to legal scholarship and librarianship. He wrote highly regarded works of legal […]

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Waite, Morrison R.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

During his fourteen years as chief justice, Waite stood firm for the understanding that the Reconstruction era amendments had not drastically altered the U.S. constitutional system. Waite was chief justice during a time of great change in the United States. The meaning of freedom for the four million former slaves was still unsettled, although the […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court’s decision further expanded the defendant’s right to counsel beyond its 1966 ruling. Wade, a defendant in a bank robbery case, was placed in a police lineup without having an attorney present. In the lineup, he and the others were required to wear a mask and say, “Put the money in the bag.” […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In striking down a state law regulating railroad pricing policies, the Supreme Court encouraged Congress to enact national standards. During the second half of the nineteenth century, state legislatures used their police powers to regulate the intrastate commerce of railroads, and the railroads faced great confusion and inconsistencies as they crossed state lines. In 1852 […]

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Voting Rights Act of 1965

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Statute permitting the federal government to expand its power and authority in order to increase black voter registration and participation in states where African Americans had been subject to discrimination. At the turn of the twentieth century, southern states adopted numerous devices designed to disenfranchise African Americans and poor whites. The most common device was […]

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Vote, right to

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Delineation of which persons are granted suffrage under the U.S. Constitution or by legislation. In Reynolds v. Sims[case]Reynolds v. Sims[Reynolds v. Sims] (1964), Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court decided the terms of the financial settlement between Virginia and West Virginia after their separation as a result of the Civil War. Virginia wanted West Virginia to pay about one-third of the pre-Civil War debt based on the total square miles of territory it lost when West Virginia separated from the state […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court established the rules governing state compacts. Although Virginia and Tennessee had agreed to a joint boundary based on an 1803 survey, this agreement had never been ratified by Congress, and as a result Virginia tried to have the survey results nullified. By an 8-0 vote, the Supreme Court held that Congress did […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that an all-male, state-supported military academy must admit women. Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgGinsburg, Ruth Bader;Virginia, United States v.[Virginia, United States v.] wrote the opinion for the 7-1 majority in the case requiring Virginia Military Institute, an all-male, state-supported military academy, to admit women. Ginsburg found that Virginia failed to show a […]

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Vinson, Fred M.

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Vinson presided over the Supreme Court during the early years of the Cold War and a new era in racial equality. His opinions, though few, defended the federal government’s national security actions and set the stage for the civil rights revolution. Vinson began his public career as a city attorney. In 1923 he was elected […]

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Vietnam War

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

U.S. military effort designed to aid South Vietnam in its fight against North Vietnam, a communist country. The Vietnam War’s length and controversial nature raised various constitutional questions. Appeals to the Supreme Court included cases pertaining to the freedom of speech, the relationship between the free exercise clause and military conscription, freedom of the press, […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court upheld Congress’s right to tax bank notes issued by a state-chartered bank. In an effort to build revenue to finance the Civil War, in 1866 Congress passed an act that raised the tax on state bank notes from 1 percent to 10 percent. The Veazie Bank of Maine declined to pay the […]

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Van Devanter, Willis

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Although he wrote few opinions, Van Devanter was a key figure in the Court’s conservative majorities in the 1920’s and 1930’s because of his mastery of procedural and jurisdictional questions. Van Devanter was born into a legal family, and attended Indiana Asbury University (later DePauw) and received his law degree from the Cincinnati Law School […]

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  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court determined that civil forfeitures in drug manufacturing and money laundering cases do not cause double jeopardy. Congress passed laws requiring the forfeiture of property in drug manufacturing and money laundering cases. The defendant, Guy Ursery, was required to forfeit his property, including his house, in a drug manufacturing case. After he was […]

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