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Most Popular Individual Rights Landmark Court Decisions in the United States Most Popular Individual Rights Landmark Court Decisions in the United States

Bronze medal Reporter Adv.John Posted 9 May 2019 Read More News and Blogs
Most Popular Individual Rights Landmark Court Decisions in the United States

Individual rights

Discrimination based on race and ethnicity

•      Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) People of African descent that are slaves or were slaves and subsequently freed, along with their descendants, cannot be United States citizens. Consequently, they cannot sue in federal court. Additionally, slavery cannot be prohibited in U.S. territories before they are admitted to the Union as doing so would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. After the Civil War, this decision was voided by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

•      Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880) Exclusion of individuals from juries solely because of their race is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Noteworthy for being the first time that the Court had reversed a state criminal conviction for a violation of a constitutional provision concerning criminal procedure.

•      Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) Neither the Thirteenth nor the Fourteenth Amendment empower Congress to safeguard blacks against the actions of private individuals.

•      Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) Segregated facilities for blacks and whites are constitutional under the doctrine of separate but equal, which holds for close to 60 years (overruled by Brown v. Board of Education (1954)).

•      New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co., 303 U.S. 552 (1938) Persons having a direct or indirect interest in terms and conditions of employment have the liberty to advertise and disseminate facts and information with respect to terms and conditions of employment, and peacefully to persuade others to concur in their views respecting an employer's practices.

•      Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) Primary elections must be open to voters of all races.

•      Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944) President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 is constitutional; therefore, American citizens of Japanese descent can be interned and deprived of their basic constitutional rights. This case featured the first application of strict scrutiny to racial discrimination by the government. The decision was possibly overruled in Trump v. Hawaii (2018).

•      Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946) A Virginia law that enforces segregation on interstate buses is unconstitutional.

•      Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948) Courts may not enforce racial covenants on real estate.

•      Henderson v. United States, 339 U.S. 816 (1950) The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 makes it unlawful for a railroad that engages in interstate commerce to subject any particular person to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatsoever.

•      Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954) Mexican Americans and all other racial and national groups in the United States have equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The protection of the 14th Amendment covers any racial, national and ethnic groups of the United States for which discrimination can be proved.

•      Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) Segregated schools in the states are unconstitutional because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that the separate but equal doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) "has no place in the field of public education".

•      Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954) Segregated schools in the District of Columbia violate the Equal Protection Clause as incorporated against the federal government by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

•      Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, 64 MCC 769 (1955) According to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the non-discrimination language of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 bans racial segregation on buses traveling across state lines. The Supreme Court later adopted and expanded this decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960).

•      Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (M.D. Ala. 1956) Bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

•      Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960) Electoral district boundaries drawn only to disenfranchise blacks violate the Fifteenth Amendment.

•      Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) Racial segregation in all forms of public transportation is illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887.

•      Garner v. Louisiana, 368 U.S. 157 (1961) Peaceful sit-in demonstrators protesting segregationist policies cannot be arrested under a state's "disturbing the peace" laws.

•      Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) Laws that prohibit interracial marriage (anti-miscegenation laws) are unconstitutional.

•      Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968) The federal government may prohibit discrimination in housing by private parties under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

•      Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971) The busing of students to promote racial integration in public schools is constitutional.

•      Gates v. Collier, 501 F. 2d 1291 (5th Cir. 1974) This decision brought an end to the trusty system and flagrant inmate abuse at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. It was the first body of law developed in the Fifth Circuit that abolished racial segregation in prisons and held that a variety of forms of corporal punishment against prisoners is considered cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

•      Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) Race-based set-asides in educational opportunities violate the Equal Protection Clause. This decision leaves the door open for the possibility of some use of race in admission decisions.

•      Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) Prosecutors may not use peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors based on their race.

•      Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995) Race-based discrimination, including discrimination in favor of minorities (affirmative action), must pass strict scrutiny.

•      Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) A narrowly tailored use of race in student admission decisions may be permissible under the Equal Protection Clause because a diverse student body is beneficial to all students. This was hinted at in Regents v. Bakke (1978).

•      Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 572 U.S. 291 (2014) A Michigan state constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

Discrimination based on sex

•      Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) Oregon's restrictions on the working hours of women are constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment because they are justified by the strong state interest in protecting women's health.

•      Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60 (1942) The exclusion of women from the jury pool, other than members of the League of Women Voters who have attended a jury training class, violates the fair-cross section requirement of the Impartial Jury Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Noteworthy for being the first majority opinion of the Court to use the phrase "cross-section of the community" and the first jury discrimination case to invoke the Sixth Amendment rather than Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

•      Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971) An employer may not, in the absence of business necessity, refuse to hire women with preschool-age children while hiring men with such children.

•      Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71 (1971) Administrators of estates cannot be named in a way that discriminates on the basis of sex.

•      Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973) Sex-based discriminations are inherently suspect. A statute that gives benefits to the spouses of male members of the uniformed services, but not to the spouses of female members, (on the assumption that only the former are dependent) is unconstitutional.

•      Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975) Systematic exclusion of women from jury service on the basis of having to register for jury duty violates a criminal defendant's 6th and 14th Amendment Rights.

•      Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) Setting different minimum ages for females (18) and males (21) to be allowed to buy beer is unconstitutional sex-based discrimination contrary to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

•      Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982) the single-sex admissions policy of the Mississippi University for Women violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1]

•      J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., 511 U.S. 127 (1994) Prosecutors may not use peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors based on their sex.

•      United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996) Sex-based "separate but equal" military training facilities violate the Equal Protection Clause.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation

•      Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986) A Georgia law that criminalizes certain acts of private sexual conduct between homosexual persons does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment (overruled by Lawrence v. Texas (2003)).

•      Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996) A Colorado state constitutional amendment that prevents homosexuals and bisexuals from being able to obtain protections under the law is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

•      Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) A Texas law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct furthers no legitimate state interest and violates homosexuals' right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision invalidates all of the remaining sodomy laws in the United States.

•      Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003) The denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates provisions of the state constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equality and is not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. This was the first state court decision in which same-sex couples won the right to marry.

•      United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 744 (2013) Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines—for federal law purposes—the terms "marriage" and "spouse" to apply only to marriages between one man and one woman, is a deprivation of the equal liberty of the person protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The federal government must recognize same-sex marriages that have been approved by the states.

•      SmithKline Beecham Corporation v. Abbott Laboratories, 740 F.3d 471 (9th Cir. 2014) Using peremptory challenges to strike potential jurors because of their sexual orientation violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as applied by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). First time holding by a United States Court of Appeals that classifications based upon sexual orientation must be subjected to heightened scrutiny.

•      Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015) The Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.

Birth control and abortion

•      Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) A Connecticut law that criminalizes the use of contraception by married couples is unconstitutional because all Americans have a constitutionally protected right to privacy.

•      Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) A Massachusetts law that criminalizes the use of contraception by unmarried couples violates the right to privacy established in Griswold as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

•      Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Laws that restrict a woman's ability to have an abortion prior to viability are unconstitutional. Most restrictions during the first trimester are prohibited, and only health-related restrictions are permitted during the second trimester.

•      Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977) Laws that restrict the sale, distribution, and advertisement of contraceptives to both adults and minors are unconstitutional.

•      Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) A woman is still able to have an abortion before viability, but several restrictions are now permitted during the first trimester. The strict trimester framework of Roe is discarded and replaced with the more vague "undue burden" test.

•      Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000) Laws that ban partial-birth abortion are unconstitutional if they do not make an exception for the woman's health or if they cannot be reasonably construed to apply only to the partial-birth abortion procedure and not to other abortion methods.

•      Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007) The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is constitutional because it is less ambiguous than the law that was struck down in Stenberg. It is not vague or overbroad, and it does not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.

•      Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. ___ (2014) Closely held, for-profit corporations have free exercise rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. As applied to such corporations, the requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that employers provide their female employees with no-cost access to contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

•      Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, 579 U.S. ___ (2016) Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.

End of life

•      Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) When a family has requested the termination of life-sustaining treatments for their vegetative relative, the state may constitutionally oppose this request if there is a lack of evidence of a clear earlier wish by said relative.

•      Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) Washington State's prohibition on assisted suicide is constitutional.

•      Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997) New York State's prohibition on assisted suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

•      Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243 (2006) The Controlled Substances Act does not prevent physicians from being able to prescribe the drugs needed to perform assisted suicides under state law.

Power of Congress to enforce civil rights

•      Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) The Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to places of public accommodation patronized by interstate travelers by reason of the Commerce Clause.

•      Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964) The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce extends to a restaurant that is not patronized by interstate travelers but which serves food that has moved in interstate commerce. This ruling makes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to virtually all businesses.

•      South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966) The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a valid exercise of Congress's power under Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment.

•      Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966) Congress may enact laws stemming from Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment that increase the rights of citizens beyond what the judiciary has recognized.

•      City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit Congress to substantially increase the scope of the rights determined by the judiciary. Congress may only enact remedial or preventative measures that are consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment interpretations of the Supreme Court.

•      Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which contains the coverage formula that determines which state and local jurisdictions are subjected to federal preclearance from the Department of Justice before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices based on their histories of racial discrimination in voting, is unconstitutional because it no longer reflects current societal conditions.


Pending Cases in Courts

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