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.

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…

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989)

Key Facts– DeShaney was beaten and permanently injured by his father, and he now sues the Department of Social Services for failing to act on his behalf and thereby depriving him of liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

Issue– Does the Due Process Clause impose a possible duty on state actors to protect people’s life, liberty, and property?

Holding– No

Result– Suit dismissed

Reasoning– Due Process is nowhere implied to create positive duties for the states. Rather, it protects from state action encroaching in certain areas. Further, Social Services had no affirmative duty to help the child, since Wisconsin law established no such tortious liability.

Reitman v Mulkey (1967)

Key Facts– California passed Proposition 14 in 1964, permitting people to refuse to lease, sell, or rent property to anyone for whatever reasons they choose. Reitman refused to rent a property to the Mulkeys, apparently based on their race.

Issue– Can a California law permit racial discrimination in private affairs such as renting property?

Holding– No

Result– Ruling by California court, preventing this discrimination,is affirmed.

Reasoning– Proposition 14 is a state permitting legal discrimination, even if the rule does not say so overtly. It also seems this was the lawmakers’ intent; this makes the law directly contradictory of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

Key Facts– In 1911, the majority of property owners in a certain area of St. Louis made a signed agreement to exclude non-Caucasian people from their area. Now they seek to to enforce that agreement in court, to prevent non-Whites from taking possession of one of those properties.

Issue– Can state courts enforce an agreement predicated on racial discrimination in property ownership?

Holding– No

Result– Contract nullified

Reasoning– The right to acquire, enjoy, own, and dispose of property is one of those protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, a state court cannot be used to violate that right on the basis of race.

The Civil Rights Cases: United States v. Stanley (1883)

Key Facts– The 1875 Civil Rights Act prohibited businesses from discriminating against people based on race, which was intended to fit under authority granted by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Issue– Does the Fourteenth Amendment permit the federal government to prohibit private discrimination?

Holding– No

Results– Lawsuits dismissed

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment is about prohibition of a certain type of state action, not individual action. The federal government can prohibit states from discriminating, but only states can constrain private discrimination.