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Landmark Supreme Court Decision Maker For over two hundred years, the Supreme Court has been pivotal in interpreting the Constitution. Here are some of the landmark Supreme Court cases that have had an impact on the rights of American citizens. If you were sitting on the SCOTUS, what sort of jurist would you be? Decide each of the following cases to find out.

1. Should federal courts be able to declare congressional legislative and executive acts unconstitutional?
Marbury v. Madison
Yes. It is the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.
No. That would be an illegal takeover of the government and Constitution by the Supreme Court by granting itself the unilateral and unchecked power to declare the acts of Congress or President illegal and unenforceable.
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2. Does Congress have the implied powers (for example, to establish a national bank), even though those powers are not explicitly granted by the Constitution?
McCulloch v. Maryland
Yes. Congress had the power to incorporate the bank therefore Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers.
The federal bank was unconstitutional because the Constitution did not explicitly permit the federal government to charter a bank.
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3. Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri. Later, he resided in Illinois where slavery was prohibited. After returning to Missouri, Scott filed suit for his freedom, claiming that his residence in free territory made him a free man. Scott's master maintained that no Negro or descendant of slaves could be a US citizen with protected rights.
Was Dred Scott a free man or slave?

Dred Scott v. Sandford
Scott shouldn't be considered free. In the pre-Civil War era, a Negro, whose ancestors were imported into America, and sold as slaves, whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore did not have standing to sue in federal court.
Scott should be considered a free citizen. Men of African descent could become citizens because they already had the right to vote in some places in the US. Also, half the states banned slavery.
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4. Louisiana enacted the Separate Car Act, which required separate railway cars for blacks and whites.
Does the Separate Car Act violate the Constitution?

Plessy v. Ferguson
No, separate treatment did not imply the inferiority of African Americans nor violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Yes, the Constitution is color-blind and the United States had no class system. Accordingly, all citizens should have equal access to civil rights.
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5. In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, the U.S. government decided to require Japanese-Americans to move into relocation camps as a matter of national security.
Did the President and Congress go beyond their war powers by implementing exclusion and restricting the rights of Americans of Japanese descent?

Korematsu v. United States
The Executive Order did not show racial prejudice but rather responded to the strategic imperative of keeping the U.S. and particularly the West Coast (the region nearest Japan) secure from invasion.
No, the exclusion order legitimized racism that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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6. African American students had been denied admittance to certain public schools based on laws allowing public education to be segregated by race.
Does the segregation of public education based solely on race violate the Constitution?

Brown v. Board of Education
Yes. Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal. violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
No. Racially segregated public facilities were legal so long as the facilities for blacks and whites were equal.
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7. In the 1960s, the New York Times published an ad for contributing donations to defend Martin Luther King, Jr. The ad contained several minor factual inaccuracies, which a local official felt were libelous, so he sued the Times.
Did Alabama's libel law unconstitutionally infringe on the First Amendment's freedom of speech and freedom of press protections?

New York Times v. Sullivan
Yes. When a statement concerns a public figure it is not enough to show that it is false for the press to be liable for libel. Instead, the target of the statement must show that it was made with knowledge of or reckless disregard for its falsity.
No. False and defamatory speech is not protected by the First Amendment.
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8. Dollree Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials after an admittedly illegal police search of her home for a fugitive. She appealed her conviction on the basis of freedom of expression.
Were the confiscated materials protected by the First Amendment?

Mapp v. Ohio
Yes, the court should decide in favor of Mapp, but the First Amendment is not the main issue. All evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment is inadmissible evidence.
No. The court should decide in favor of Ohio based solely on the First Amendment issues raised in Mapp's petition. Applying Fourth Amendment protections ignores the principles of judicial restraint.
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9. Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?
Engel v. Vitale
Yes, the school's policy breached the constitutional wall of separation between church and state.
No, no "official religion" was established by permitting those who want to say a prayer to say it.
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10. Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with felony breaking and entering. When he appeared in court without a lawyer, Gideon requested that the court appoint one for him. According to Florida state law, however, an attorney may only be appointed to an indigent defendant in capital cases, so the trial court did not appoint one.
Does the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel in criminal cases extend to felony defendants in state courts?

Gideon v. Wainwright
Yes. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused the right to the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions and requires courts to provide counsel for defendants.
No. According to Florida state law, an attorney need only be appointed to an indigent defendant in capital cases.
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11. Ernesto Miranda was arrested. At the police station he was questioned about a kidnapping and rape. After a two hours interrogation, the police obtained a written confession from Miranda. The confession was admitted into evidence at his trial.
Does the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination extend to the police interrogation of a suspect?

Miranda v. Arizona
Yes. The Fifth Amendment requires that law enforcement officials advise suspects of their right to remain silent and to obtain an attorney during interrogations while in police custody.
No. Reading a suspect their rights upon arrest is an unnecessarily strict interpretation of the Fifth Amendment that curtails the ability of the police to effectively execute their duties. Furthermore, Miranda's constitutional rights were not violated because he did not specifically request counsel.
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12. Did Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, criminalizing interracial marriage, violate the Constitution?
Loving v Virginia
Yes, distinctions drawn according to race were generally "odious to a free people" and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
No, Virginia's statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites: that is a black couldn't marry a white, but a white couldn't marry a black.
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13. Terry and two other men were observed by a plain clothes policeman in what the officer believed to be "casing a job, a stick-up." The officer stopped and frisked the three men, and found weapons on two of them. Terry was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and sentenced to three years in jail.
Was the search and seizure of Terry and the other men in violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Terry v. Ohio
Yes. To give police greater search and seizure power than a judge is to take a long step down the totalitarian path.
No, the search undertaken by the officer was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and that the weapons seized could be introduced into evidence against Terry.
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14. A group of students' plan a public showing of their support for a truce in the Vietnam War. They decided to wear black armbands, as a form of symbolic protest. Aware of this, the principal created a new policy that wearing an armband would result in suspension.
Does a school's prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school violate the students' freedom of speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment?

Tinker v. Des Moines
Yes. The students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property.
No. The appearance of the armbands distracted students from their work, they detracted from the ability of the school officials to perform their duties, so the school district was well within its rights to discipline the students.
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15. Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. Texas law prohibited abortions except to save the pregnant woman's life.
Does the Constitution embrace a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?

Roe v. Wade
Yes. A woman's right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
No. The only constitutional right to privacy is that which is protected by the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
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16. Nine high school and junior high school students in Columbus, Ohio, were given 10-day suspensions from school. The school principals did not hold hearings for the affected students before ordering the suspensions, and Ohio law did not require them to do so.
Did the imposition of the suspensions without preliminary hearings violate the students' Due Process rights?

Goss v. Lopez
Yes. Ohio should recognize the students' entitlements to education as protected by the Due Process Clause guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment; students facing suspension should at a minimum be given notice and afforded some kind of hearing.
No. Ohio had granted the right to education, not the right to education without discipline.
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17. Is the American President's right to safeguard certain information, using his "executive privilege" confidentiality power, entirely immune from judicial review?
United States v. Nixon
No. Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified, presidential privilege.
Yes. The President's "executive privilege," is the right to withhold information from other government branches to preserve confidential communications within the executive branch or to secure the national interest.
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18. T.L.O. was a high school student. School officials searched her purse suspecting she had cigarettes. The officials discovered cigarettes and a small amount of marijuana. T.L.O. was charged with possession of marijuana.
Does the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches apply to searches conducted by school officials in public schools?

New Jersey v. T.L.O.
No. Public school officials may conduct reasonable warrantless searches of students under their authority notwithstanding the probable cause standard that would normally apply to searches under the Fourth Amendment.
Yes. The initial search conducted by the school official-the search for evidence of the smoking violation that was completed when the pack of cigarette were found. It was invalid for the school official, who at that point did not have probable cause, to continue to rummage through T.L.O.'s purse. Therefore, the fruits of this illegal search must be excluded.
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19. At a school assembly of approximately 600 high school students, Matthew Fraser made a speech nominating a fellow student for elective office. In his speech, Fraser used what some observers believed was a graphic sexual metaphor to promote the candidacy of his friend. Fraser was suspended from school for two days.
Does the Constitution prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a high school assembly?

Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser
No. It is appropriate for the school to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive language.
Yes. If a student is to be punished for using offensive speech, he is entitled to fair notice of the scope of the prohibition and the consequences of its violation. Free speech protected by the First Amendment and the interest in fair procedure protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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20. The Student Activities Drug Testing Policy adopted by the Tecumseh, Oklahoma School District requires all middle and high school students to consent to urinalysis testing for drugs in order to participate in any extracurricular activity.
Is the school's drug testing policy constitutional?

Board of Education of Independent School District #92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls
Yes, because the policy reasonably serves the School District's important interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students, it is constitutional.
No. The particular testing program is not reasonable; it is capricious, even perverse. The policy targets for testing a student population, athletes, least likely to be at risk from illicit drugs and their damaging effects.
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21. Responding to a reported weapons disturbance in a private residence, Houston police entered John Lawrence's apartment and saw him and another adult man, Tyron Garner, engaging in a private, consensual sexual act.
Do the criminal convictions of Lawrence and Garner under the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law, which criminalizes sexual intimacy by same-sex couples, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples, violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of laws?

Lawrence v. Texas
No. There was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and states could outlaw those practices. Furthermore, guaranteeing a right to sodomy would be the product of "judge-made constitutional law" and send the Court down the road of illegitimacy.
Yes. Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
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22. Do the provisions of the District of Columbia Code that restrict the licensing of handguns and require licensed firearms kept in the home to be kept nonfunctional violate the Second Amendment?
District of Columbia v. Heller
No. The Second Amendment protects militia-related, not self-defense-related, interests. Moreover, the protection the Second Amendment provides is not absolute. The Amendment permits government to regulate the interests that it serves.
Yes. The Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.
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23. The makers of the anti-Hillary Clinton film, "Hillary: The Movie" argued against the application of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) to their movie. In an attempt to regulate "big money" campaign contributions, the BCRA applies a variety of restrictions to "electioneering communications."
Do the BCRA's corporate financial disclosure requirements impose an unconstitutional burden?

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Yes. Political speech is indispensable to a democracy, which is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation.
No. Corporations are not members of society and that there are compelling governmental interests to curb corporations' ability to spend money during local and national elections.
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24. Does the Constitution require a state to license a marriage of same sex couple and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex that was legally licensed and performed in another state?
Obergefell v. Hodges
Yes. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to marry as one of the fundamental liberties it protects, and that analysis applies to same-sex couples in the same manner as it does to opposite-sex couples.
No. While same-sex marriage might be good and fair policy, the Constitution does not address it, and therefore it is beyond the purview of the Court to decide whether states have to recognize or license such unions.
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25. Does the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines the term "marriage" as a "legal union between one man and one woman" deprive same-sex couples who are legally married under state laws of equal protection under federal law?
United States v. Windsor
Yes. The purpose and effect of DOMA is to impose a "disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma" on same-sex couples in violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.
No. The legitimate need for marital uniformity and stability justified Congress' enactment of DOMA.
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