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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Nguyen v. Immigration & Naturalization Service

Key Facts– A US statute determining whether or not the child of one US citizen parent and one non-US citizen parent was a US citizen imposed different requirements depending upon whether the mother or father was a US citizen.

Issue– Does this violate Equal Protection?

Holding– No

Result– Law affirmed

Reasoning– It’s easy to be certain of who a child’s mother is. It is much more difficult to be certain of paternity, especially when the parents are unmarried. From a practical biological standpoint, there are very real reasons for a legal difference in treatment.

United States v. Virginia

Key Facts– Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a public military college, admitted only men. Virginia’s discrimination against women was ruled unconstitutional in the Fourth Circuit.

Issues– Does VMI’s exclusion of women violate Equal Protection? If so, what is the remedy?

Holding– Yes. The remedy is to end the exclusion.

Result– VMI opened to women

Reasoning– There is no “exceedingly persuasive justification” for the state discrimination here. Rational basis is not enough, given the long national history of discrimination against women.

Craig v. Boren

Key Facts– Oklahoma passed a statute prohibiting some alcohol sales to men and women below a certain age, with the age being 21 for men and 18 for women.

Issue– Does a gender-based differential like this in a law violate the Equal Protection Clause?

Holding– Yes.

Result– Law overturned

Reasoning– As established by earlier cases, gender-based differentials in law are subject to some degree of scrutiny under Equal Protection. Statistical evidence offered here was insufficient to justify the regulation, and even if it was accepted as conclusive, the studies discussed would be insufficient to justify gender-based discrimination. This is clearly a higher standard than the rational basis test, though it is not strict scrutiny.

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.

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.

San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973)

Key Facts– Parents in Texas living in poorer areas felt their children were in sub-par schools due to a lack of property tax funding in their areas. Their parents sued to change the Texas system of financing public education.

Issue– Is there a constitutional right to education? If so, can Texas be sued for not providing an equal level of education to everyone?

Holding– No and no

Result– Suit dismissed.

Reasoning– Just because a state service is important, or even arguably necessary, does not make it a fundamental right. Here, there is also no clear discrimination against a well-defined category of the poor, so Equal Protection does not apply. The Court also notes there is no right to education in the Constitution.

Guess not.
Guess not.

Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio (1977)

Key Facts– An ordinance in East Cleveland limited occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, with “family” specifically defined. Moore appeals her conviction for permitting her grandchildren to live with her.

Issue– Does the ordinance violate Due Process?

Holding– Yes.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– Cities cannot intrude so extensively into family life without a major interest involved. Here, whether it’s deliberate or not, a major impact of the statute is to dictate familial structures, which is unconstitutional.

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.