Michael H. v. Gerald D. (1989)

Key Facts– Under California law, children born to married women living with their husbands are presumed to be children of the marriage. Michael H. had an affair with a woman married to Gerald D., and Michael H. now sues for the right to establish his paternity of the child he fathered with the wife.

Issue– Are parental rights guaranteed when one alleges paternity of a child born to a married couple?

Holding– No

Result– California law held to apply to the case.

Reasoning– California law provides an assumption of paternity for the husband. Historically, the interests of men in Michael’s situation have not been protected through any special measures. To have Due Process protection, a right must be fundamental, rooted in tradition and conscience. Since no such right exists here, state law shall apply.

Stanley v. Illinois (1972)

Key Facts– Under Illinois law, the children of unwed fathers became wards of the state upon the death of their mother. This happened to Peter Stanley’s children when Joan Stanley died.

Issue– Is a regulation automatically taking children from their parents constitutionally permissible?

Holding– Of course not.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– The integrity of the family is protected by Due Process. There is no way of categorically saying all unwed fathers are unfit to have custody of children. This statute runs roughshod over family rights, and it cannot stand.

Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (1925)

Key Facts– Oregon required that all youths attend public school, and parents and guardians obtained orders of restraint against this.

Issue– Can a state compel all youths to attend public schools?

Holding– No

Results– Law overturned

Reasoning– The state is not acting under exigent circumstances here. Also, children are not “mere creature[s] of the state.” Their families have a right and a duty to nurture them, which includes providing an education.

Meyer v. Nebraska (1923)

Key Facts– In Nebraska, a law was passed making it illegal to teach languages other than English to students before 8th grade. Meyer was tried for teaching German to a ten-year-old.

Issue– Does this law violate Nebraskans’ rights?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law overturned

Reasoning– Though states have the power to enforce educational requirements generally, it is primarily a matter for family concern. Thus, it is protected from too much interference by the state, other than where needed for compelling reasons.

Saenz v. Roe (1999)

Key Facts– California enacted a statute limiting the maximum welfare that new residents of the state will be eligible for to the amount payable in that resident’s previous state of residence.

Issue– Does the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibit discrimination against new citizens of states?

Holding– Yes

Result– Law stricken

Reasoning– As stated in the Slaughterhouse cases, one of the Privileges conferred in the Privileges and Immunities Clause is the right, through residency, to become a citizen of a new state and thereafter enjoy the same rights as other citizens of that state.

National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius

affordable care act

Key Facts—The Affordable Care Act passed, establishing an individual mandate that required private individuals to purchase health insurance. The Affordable Care Act also created a Medicaid expansion, with strings attached. The National Federation of Independent Business sued on the constitutionality of these provisions.

Issue—Did Congress have the power to enact the disputed provisions of the Affordable Care Act?

Holding—Yes regarding the individual mandate, no regarding the strings attached to Medicaid.

Result—Law partially affirmed, partially overturned.

Reasoning—The individual mandate is enforced with a penalty. The Court does not recognize the power of Congress to create this new penalty under the Commerce Clause, but says that they can interpret the penalty as a tax, and that would make it constitutional. The Medicaid expansion, on the other hand, has strings attached to it that would prevent states from receiving Medicaid funding if they do not perform specific actions mandated by Congress. This is effectively coercion, and it threatens the states, taking away their options; the Court rules that the states must have a genuine choice about accepting congressional funding and adopting new programs.

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

Printz v. United States

Key Facts—The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act commanded state and local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers and perform some related tasks.

Issue—Can Congress compel state and local law enforcement to perform specific tasks pursuant to federal regulations?


Result—Law partially stricken.

Reasoning—Historically, when Congress needed state assistance in enforcing a federal law, it never attempted to mandate compliance; instead, it requested support. If the states did not comply, Congress worked around the resultant logistical issues. Using the states as instruments of Congress is forbidden, because they have their own sovereignty. The Brady Act would transfer the Executive responsibility for execution of the laws to local authorities, and it is therefore unacceptable.

National Labor Relations Board v Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp.

Key Facts– The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Jones & Laughlin violated the National Labor Relations Act by discriminating against, coercing, and intimidating union member employees, mainly by firing some of them. Jones & Laughlin argued the Act was unconstitutional.

Issues– Is an act that regulates commerce in a blanket way constitutional? Does the commerce clause grant authority over labor activity?

Holding-Yes and yes.

Results– NLRB’s existence and actions upheld.

Reasoning– Industrial strife can have a serious effect on interstate commerce, and the intent of Congress’s actions on labor relations are intended to moderate or control this potentially deleterious effect. On the other hand, as noted by the dissent, this decision, suddenly interpreting Congress as being able to regulate anything that may impact commerce in some way, might enable Congress to do basically anything they want.


Jones & Laughlin
Jones & Laughlin

US v Comstock

Key Facts– A federal civil commitment statute gave the Department of Justice the authority to detain mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoners beyond what would normally be their release date. Multiple people fought this after being held under it, arguing the statute was unconstitutional.

Issue– Is indefinite detention by the federal government for mental illness and sexual misconduct constitutional?

Holding– Yes.

Result– The statute is upheld.

Reasoning– This is not a particularly new use of power by Congress, and even if it were, it is well within congressional authority. It accounts for states’ rights, and despite fears, the Court concludes it does not create a police state.

Indefinite Detention
Indefinite Detention
Of Prisoners
Of Prisoners