Grutter v. Bollinger

Key Facts– University of Michigan used race as a factor in making law school admissions decisions, amalgamated with other forms of “diversity,” alongside other elements of its admissions criteria. A White student sued to fight her rejection, arguing that this policy weighed against her.

Issue– Is diversity a compelling state interest that justifies race-related admissions policies in public universities?

Holding– Yes

Result– Policy affirmed

Reasoning– The university’s policies make race one of various diversity factors that add a “plus” to a candidate’s application, rather than excluding people based on racing or including people purely based on race. It does not constitute a quota, which would be unconstitutional. The Court additionally notes that in time, race will no longer be a necessary consideration in admissions decisions.

Washington v. Davis

Key Facts– A qualifying test used to select police officers in Washington, D.C. is challenged here, because it apparently led to inequality of result in terms of the racial composition of the police force.

Issue– If a government policy has an unequal impact on different groups, yet is designed for neutral ends, should it be held to strict scrutiny?

Holding– No

Result– Test affirmed

Reasoning– This test is neutral on its face. If the Equal Protection Clause can be applied to strike down policies that are neutral,but may lead to discriminatory outcomes, there is virtually no limit to its application.

Johnson v. California

Key Facts– The California Department of Corrections (CDC) had an unwritten policy of racially segregating prisoners for up to 60 days when they entered a new corrections facility. Petitioner sues to overturn this policy.

Issue– Is strict scrutiny the proper standard of review for this policy?

Holding– Yes

Result– Strict scrutiny applied to all race-based classifications by the state, with this particular classification remanded for consideration in that light

Reasoning– All government racial classifications are subject to strict scrutiny, because there is a presumption they have a sinister purpose, or could have. Thus, the government must be pursuing a very important end to be permitted to discriminate, and it must actually achieve, or be critical to achieving, that end. Separate is, as a matter of law, not equal. At the same time, prison systems are a place where government power is at its apex, so their obligation to prove they had a prison safety interest in this policy is not completely fatal.

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.

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.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

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.

Wow.

Sorry, dude...
Sorry, dude…

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.