Student Speech, Symbolic Speech
“. . . In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.”— Justice Fortas, speaking for the majority
John and Mary Beth Tinker of Des Moines, Iowa, wore black armbands to their public school as a symbol of protest against American involvement in the Vietnam War. When school authorities asked that the Tinkers remove their armbands, they refused and were subsequently suspended. The Supreme Court decided that the Tinkers had the right to wear the armbands, with Justice Abe Fortas stating that no one expects students to “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
Affirmative Action, Equal Protection
” . . . Race or ethnic background may be deemed a “plus” in a particular applicant’s file, yet it does not insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.”— Justice Powell, Speaking for the Court
In the early 1970s, the medical school of the University of California at Davis devised a dual admissions program to increase representation of disadvantaged minority students. Allan Bakke was a white male who applied to and was rejected from the regular admissions program, while minority applicants with lower grade point averages and testing scores were admitted under the specialty admissions program. Bakke filed suit, alleging that this admissions system violated the Equal Protection Clause and excluded him on the basis of race. The Supreme Court found for Bakke against the rigid use of racial quotas, but also established that race was a permissible criteria among several others.
Censorship, Student Press Rights
” . . . educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” —Justice White, speaking for the majority
Hazelwood East High School Principal Robert Reynolds procedurally reviewed the Spectrum, the school’s student-written newspaper, before publication. In May 1983, he decided to have certain pages pulled because of the sensitive content in two of the articles, and acted quickly to remove them in order to meet the paper’s publication deadline. The journalism students felt that this censorship was a direct violation of their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court decided that Principal Reynolds had the right to such editorial decisions, as he had “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
Right to Counsel, Due Process
“If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in his prison cell . . . to write a letter to the Supreme Court . . . the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter, the Court did look into his case . . . and the whole course of American legal history has been changed.” —Robert F. Kennedy
In June 1961, a burglary occurred at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, FL. Police arrested Clarence Earl Gideon after he was found nearby with a pint of wine and some change in his pockets. Gideon, who could not afford a lawyer, asked a Florida Circuit Court judge to appoint one for him arguing that the Sixth Amendment entitles everyone to a lawyer. The judge denied his request and Gideon was left to represent himself. He did a poor job of defending himself and was found guilty of breaking and entering and petty larceny. While serving his sentence in a Florida state prison, Gideon began studying law, which reaffirmed his belief his rights were violated when the Florida Circuit Court refused his request for counsel. From his prison cell, he handwrote a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case and it agreed. The Court unanimously ruled in Gideon’s favor, stating that the Six Amendment requires state courts to provide attorneys for criminal defendants who cannot otherwise afford counsel.
State Rights, Commerce Clause
“… Few things were better known, than the immediate causes which led to the adoption of the present constitution … that the prevailing motive was to regulate commerce; to rescue it from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law.” —Chief Justice John Marshall
In 1808, the government of New York granted a steamboat company a monopoly to operate its boats on the state’s waters, which included bodies of water that stretched between states. Aaron Ogden held a license under this monopoly to operate steamboats between New Jersey and New York. Thomas Gibbons, another steamboat operator, competed with Aaron Ogden on this same route but held a federal coasting license issued by an act of Congress. Ogden filed a complaint in New York court to stop Gibbons from operating his boats, claiming that the monopoly granted by New York was legal even though he operated on shared, interstate waters. Gibbons disagreed arguing that the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the sole power over interstate commerce. After losing twice in New York courts, Gibbons appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined that the commerce clause of the Constitution grants the federal government the power to determine how interstate commerce is conducted.
Slavery, Due Process, the Missouri Compromise
” . . . We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. . . .” — Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, speaking for the majority
In 1834, slave Dred Scott was purchased in Missouri and then brought to Illinois, a free (non-slave) state. His owner and he later moved to present-day Minnesota where slavery had been recently prohibited, and then back to Missouri. When his owner died, Scott sued the widow to whom he was left, claiming he was no longer a slave because he had become free after living in a free state. At a time when the country was in deep conflict over slavery, the Supreme Court decided that Dred Scott was not a “citizen of the state” so they had no jurisdiction in the matter, but the majority opinion also stated that he was not a free man.