Lawrence v. Texas

Key Facts– Here, Texas made it a crime to have intimate contact with members of the same sex. Lawrence appeals his conviction under the statute.

Issue– Does a statute prohibiting homosexual conduct violate the Due Process right to liberty?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law overturned

Reasoning– Sexual conduct and lifestyle choices related to it should be respected by the state. This is a part of the “realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” Further, there is no legitimate state interest that justifies this.

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.

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.

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Key Facts– Virginia had a law that prohibited interracial marriage. Loving and his wife married outside of the state and then returned to Virginia.

Procedural History– Trial court sentenced the couple to one year in jail, suspended for twenty-five years. Trial judge noted “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Supreme Court of Appeals upheld constitutionality of the law, but modified the sentence. Supreme Court grants well-deserved certiorari.

Issue– Is a law prohibiting interracial marriage constitutional?

Holding– No.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– This violates the Equal Protection Clause. Marriage is a basic civil right. This law should not still exist in 1967, especially given that Heart of Atlanta was three years before this case (my reasoning).

Interracial marriage, back when it was a novel concept (depiction of Othello)
Interracial marriage, back when it was a novel concept (depiction of Othello)

Gonzales v. Raich

medical marijuana

Key Facts—California authorized the use of medical marijuana, in violation of Congress’s Controlled Substances Act. Nevertheless, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) enforced the Controlled Substances Act in California, and raided the homes of multiple people, finding and destroying marijuana when it located it. One of the people whose marijuana was destroyed was Raich, whose marijuana use was intended to treat conditions that would otherwise be excruciatingly painful and perhaps fatal. Thus, Raich brought action against the DEA and Attorney General for violating his rights.

Issue—Does the Controlled Substances Act overrule contrary California law? If so, is the Controlled Substances Act constitutional?

Holding—Yes and yes.

Result—Judgment against the government is vacated.

Reasoning—Well-settled law on drugs settles that Congress has the power to regulate them. The Court invokes Wickard here, and says that it controls, and that Raich’s lawyers, who tried to use Lopez and Morrison as precedents here, have interpreted those cases too broadly. Though the Supreme Court has strong reservations about enforcing this law, it is within Congress’s authority to pass it.

medical marijuana rules

United States v. Morrison

Key Facts—A rape victim attempted to sue her alleged rapists and Virginia Tech under the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994, a law intended to provide a federal civil remedy for gender-based violence cases.

Procedural History—District Court held that Congress lacked the authority to enact this law. Court of Appeals reversed. Court of Appeals reheard the case en banc and reversed the reversal. Supreme Court decided to settle the matter.

Issue—Can Congress create a civil remedy for cases of gender-based violence using their Commerce Clause power?


Result—Original ruling essentially upheld; law partially stricken.

Reasoning—As in US v. Lopez, this law is only very tangentially related to commerce. Also, the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment, which formed an alternative possible justification for the law, are inapplicable here, because they cannot be used to constrain private individuals.

Morrison case

On the Impact of a Talk by Richard Ross

Richard Ross, a recent visitor to the Levin School of law, had much to say on the state of juvenile justice (or injustice, as the case may be). His words were thought provoking, but his pictures were an order of magnitude more striking. Below, find a link to his book, which seems likely to have the same emotional effect as his presentation.

The sense of moral wrong that the reality of imprisoned children can inspire is staggering. By the end of Mr. Ross’s presentation, I was hoping for solutions to correct what seemed a clear and objective system of injustice.

I suspect that the idea of an objective right and wrong is close to the hearts of most people outside of the legal profession. Of course, when I think about the popular image of lawyers, it is not that of a group of people crusading against clear injustices.

Rather, if pop culture is any indication, the public expects us to defend mainly corporations and guilty criminals, either working in an actively immoral or amoral way or at least ignoring the larger moral picture and becoming obsessed with the details and necessities of victory.

Yet when I thought about the idea of children in solitary confinement and restraints, I felt this was the sort of injustice that could not be easily ignored by anyone. Solitary confinement can be traumatic for stronger adult prisoners, and the thought of it being used on juveniles was heart-breaking.

Juvenile imprisonment itself is also a pretty disturbing thought; hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children have been judged as ‘bad’ by the justice system, many of them before they reach puberty. How can they possibly become good citizens when the world has effectively told them they are a burden on society?

Gradually, I realized there was an element of nuance that I was missing. That is the problem with allowing oneself to be swayed by emotionally based appeals, which are invariably unbalanced on one side of an issue.

After speaking with a friend who grew up poor, around many juveniles who ended up adjudicated delinquent, I feel I have developed a somewhat better-rounded point of view.

I still think solitary confinement of minors is categorically wrong, and it probably qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

However, when I look at juveniles in the justice system, I have to look at more than just their probably unfortunate backgrounds. Almost everyone who ends up doing cruel or immoral things in their adult life was mistreated or poor as a child; this doesn’t mean that they should be set free.

Based on my friend’s experience, most of the children who end up in juvenile delinquency facilities have a long track record of causing problems, fighting, and generally making it impossible for other people to learn.

This made me think about the other side of the juvenile detention issue. If you’re one of the children who has to go to school with those kids, just as poor as them maybe, but perhaps raised a little better, how are you supposed to learn?

When I read the stories on Richard Ross’s website, I am struck first by a strong sense of empathy for the children or teenagers in them, whose families are often violent or drug users, or both. Then I’m struck by the concern that someday, these juveniles will get out, and my younger sister, or my future children, will be walking the same streets as them.

It is important to think about these things. It is important to think about more than one side. I am still not entirely sure how relevant this visitor was to my course on Legal Writing, but it was certainly a thought-provoking presentation.