Palmore v. Sidoti

Key Facts– A Florida court made a ruling divesting a mother of custody of her infant child, because she remarried to a person of a different race.

Issue– Is private racial bias and the possible injury it might inflict on a child a permissible consideration in removing an infant from its mother’s custody?

Holding– No

Result– Mother’s custody restored

Reasoning– The Constitution does not tolerate prejudice. While it cannot eliminate private prejudices, the law must never give it effect.

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Korematsu v. United States

Key Facts– During World War II, people of Japanese ancestry were “excluded” from certain areas, without Due Process. This was to prevent espionage and sabotage. Korematsu sued in opposition to this, after having been convicted for remaining in San Leandro, California.

Issue– Is this order, if based in sufficient grounds in terms of military necessity, constitutional?

Holding– Yes

Result– Exclusion order upheld

Reasoning– Military necessity justifies actions against potential threats. Because there was evidence that some Japanese Americans were disloyal, and there was no efficient way to separate the loyal from the disloyal, this necessitated action against the group as a whole. This was not based in racism per se, and at the time, it seemed justified, so the Court declines to impose the knowledge they have in the present in judging the past decision.

Brown v. Board of Education

Key Facts– Several state laws segregating their schools were subjected to legal challenges on the grounds that they were not “equal” and could not be made equal.

Issue– Does segregation violate Equal Protection when present in public schools?

Holding– Yes

Result– Segregation in schools ruled unconstitutional

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment Was intended by its strongest proponents to eliminate all legal distinctions between American citizens. Public education was not especially prevalent at that time, particularly in the South, which makes it hard to say how the Amendment was intended to apply to schools. However, the Court considers it important here to examine whether segregation, even if facilities were to be equal, would lead to unequal educational opportunities.Here, they conclude that it does.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Key Facts– Louisiana passed an act providing for separate train cars for Black and White people. The act required that the cars be “equal but separate.” A mixed-race man, Plessy, volunteered to test the law and was arrested.

Issue– Does this violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding– No

Result– Law upheld

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment is interpreted here as creating a legal equality that does not necessitate commingling between the races. Thus, as long as they are treated equally, separating the races is permissible. This does not necessarily stamp one race with a badge of inferiority. The court further argues that the law cannot enforce social equality or overcome social prejudices, and should not try to do so.

Plessy and Ferguson... can you tell which is which?
Plessy and Ferguson… can you tell which is which?

McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010)

Key Facts– Chicago and Oak Park made laws prohibiting firearms, just like in Washington, D.C. prior to D.C. v. Heller.

Issue– Is the Second Amendment applicable to the states?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law stricken

Reasoning– The Due Process clause incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it to the states, because self-defense is a basic right, and the right to bear arms is therefore critical.

City of Cleburne, Texas v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. (1985)

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.

Washington v. Glucksberg (1997)

Key Facts– Washington had a law prohibiting assisted suicide. Dr. Glucksberg and colleagues sought to have this declared unconstitutional.

Issue– Does this law violate the “liberty” protected by the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding– No

Result– Law affirmed.

Reasoning– Due Process liberties only include traditional, fundamental rights and liberties. The States have often prohibited suicide, which implies that it is not a protected liberty.

Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990)

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?

Holding– No

Result– Person kept alive.

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.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

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.

Roe v. Wade (1973)

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.

Differing opinions...
Differing opinions…