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.

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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.

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.

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.