Key Facts– In the Missouri Compromise, Congress divided the states into half slave and half free. After having been brought into a free state, and after his owner died, Scott sued the executor of the owner’s estate for his and his family’s freedom.
Issue– Can a Black person be an American citizen, with rights.
Holding– Shockingly no (prepare to be on the wrong side of history, guys!).
Result– Lack of Black rights established. Dred Scott’s personal bondage affirmed. Compromise overturned. Table flipped. Civil War hastened in.
Reasoning– Essentially, Black people are here judged as lesser beings, destined for an inferior position in the United States. Therefore, they cannot have American citizenship, or the rights associated with it.
Key Facts– Cleburne denied a permit for a group home for the mentally handicapped. The living center sued.
Issues– Is mental handicap a protected category of persons under Equal Protection? What standard of scrutiny is appropriate for laws affecting the mentally handicapped?
Holding– No. Here, the court applies a rational basis test.
Result– City decision overruled.
Reasoning– The mentally handicapped do not require treatment as a protected class, because they are actually qualitatively different from other people. Also, they vary widely in terms of the qualities that define them as handicapped. Finally, state treatment of the mentally handicapped is generally fairly positive.
However, in this case, the Court says the denial of permission to operate has no rational basis.
Key Facts– Nancy Cruzan was rendered incompetent due to injuries sustained in a car accident, and remained alive on life support. Her parents sued to have life support withdrawn, on the grounds that this would reflect her wishes.
Issue– Do a person’s guardians have authority to have treatment withdrawn for them, when there is no clear evidence of patient’s wishes?
Reasoning– There was insufficient evidence of Nancy’s wishes to permit refusal of treatment. While people do have the right to refuse treatment, the state’s interests in preserving life justify a requirement of evidence that the refusal, in a case like this, reflects the patient’s wishes. Frankly, this makes sense, because if the state doesn’t require this, the consequences are pretty irreversible.
Key Facts– The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act regulated abortion by requiring women to give informed consent, be provided with certain information 24 hours prior, and notify her spouse, if she were married.
Issue– Are these conditions on abortion rights constitutional?
Holding– Yes regarding the first two conditions; no regarding spousal notification
Result– Law partially stricken.
Reasoning– The Court here rejects Roe’s trimester framework, because it undervalues the state interest in prenatal life, and it is not a necessary (or even particularly well-founded) perspective on prenatal life. The Court says only laws that create an “undue burden” on the right to choose should be struck down. However, people’s rights cannot change when they’re married, and the requirement to inform the spouse is therefore an undue burden.
Key Facts– In the 19th Century and into the 20th, many American states adopted and enforced laws restricting or prohibiting abortion. These laws are ultimately considered in their totality by the court here, though the case that specifically gives rise to this decision is an abortion case coming out of Texas.
Issues– Can the states prohibit abortion? If not, can they restrict or regulate it? If they cannot prohibit it, but can restrict or regulate it, what’s the limit?
Holding– No. Yes. The limit is based on weighing the state’s interest in regulation against the privacy right.
Result– Right to abortion established.
Reasoning– An overview of world history shows that abortion has not been a universally reviled phenomenon. In the common law, the history until the 19th Century only shows sanctions for abortion that applied after “quickening,” or first fetal movement. The state has an interest in abortion for safety reasons and for the preservation of pre-natal life, both of which are significant. However, the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, and this must be weighed against the state interest.
Key Facts– Massachusetts convicted Baird for distributing contraceptives to people not married, and without being a pharmacist or doctor.
Issue– Is Massachusetts’ distinction between married and unmarried couples based on rational grounds?
Result– Law struck down
Reasoning– The law cannot be intended to deter premarital sex, because that would make fornication punishable by pregnancy, and also because this would have barely any effect on the desired goal. Also, the right to contraceptive access must be the same for married and unmarried people. The right to privacy belongs to everyone.
Key Facts– Connecticut had a statute prohibiting the use of contraceptives. Griswold worked with Planned Parenthood in disseminating contraceptives. After Griswold was arrested and fined, she appealed.
Issue– Is there a right to contraceptive use?
Result– Law overturned.
Reasoning– Rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights have additional implications, “penumbras.” The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments each create certain privacy rights, from which other rights may be inferred. Here, Connecticut violates a married couple’s right to privacy through its law.
Key Facts– Parents in Texas living in poorer areas felt their children were in sub-par schools due to a lack of property tax funding in their areas. Their parents sued to change the Texas system of financing public education.
Issue– Is there a constitutional right to education? If so, can Texas be sued for not providing an equal level of education to everyone?
Holding– No and no
Result– Suit dismissed.
Reasoning– Just because a state service is important, or even arguably necessary, does not make it a fundamental right. Here, there is also no clear discrimination against a well-defined category of the poor, so Equal Protection does not apply. The Court also notes there is no right to education in the Constitution.