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?

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.

Zablocki v. Redhail (1978)

Key Facts– Wisconsin had a law requiring that people who fell into some category (being behind on child support) get a special court order prior to getting a marriage license. It essentially made it impossible for Redhail to get married.

Issue– Is this sort of regulation constitutionally permissible?

Holding– No

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– Marriage is a fundamental right, and laws that make it more difficult to get married should be strictly scrutinized. This law effectively makes it impossible for some people to marry, particularly the indigent.

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.