On This Date in Legal History

On June 11, 2001, the United States Supreme Court decided Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The case arose after Milford Central School denied Good News Club’s request to conduct their weekly after-school meetings in their school cafeteria. The school permitted other outside organizations to use their building, but denied the Club permission under its “religious exclusion policy.” The Club is a private Christian organization that provides religious instruction to children. Good News Club sued claiming that their First Amendment rights were violated, and the Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 decision.

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas

Justice Clarence Thomas, who delivered the opinion of the Court, wrote— “When Milford denied the Good News Club access to the school’s limited public forum on the ground that the Club was religious in nature, it discriminated against the Club because of its religious viewpoint in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” Justice Thomas further noted—“no Establishment Clause concern justifies that violation.” You can listen to the case argued before the Supreme Court at http://bit.ly/1GhcS9K.

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On This Date in Legal History

Charles Evans Hughes was a well-respected jurist. Robert H. Jackson once said of Justice Hughes– “[H]e looks like God and talks like God.” Between 1907 and 1910, he was the 36th Governor of New York. From 1910-1916, he was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Charles Evans Hughes

Charles Evans Hughes

On June 10, 1916, Justice Hughes resigned from the Supreme Court to run for president– however, he lost to President Wilson.  From 1921-1925, he served as Secretary of State under President Harding;however, from 1930 to 1941, he returned to the Supreme Court to serve as Chief Justice. For years he also practiced as a lawyer (his firm still exists today) and he taught law. I highly recommend you listen to C-Span’s program on former Justice Charles Evans Hughes at http://goo.gl/eDhcrF.

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This Week in History

On June 9, 1987, the United States Supreme Court decided O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz. Muslim inmates sued the Administrator of the Leesburg State Prison claiming prison policies impinged on their First Amendment rights. Prisoners assigned to work off-site weren’t permitted to return to the prison to attend a religious service known as Jumu’ah. In a 5:4 decision the Justices found in favor of the Prison Administrator, O’Lone.

William Hubbs Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote– “While we in no way minimize the central importance of Jumu’ah to [the inmates], we are unwilling to hold that prison officials are required by the Constitution to sacrifice legitimate penological objectives to that end.” Listen to the attorneys argue this case before the Court at http://bit.ly/1Mm0jeP.

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This Week in History

President Richard M. Nixon nominated Warren Burger for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed his appointment on June 9, 1969. Take a look at the Congressional Record at http://1.usa.gov/1I0aH8y.

Chief Justice Warren Burger

Chief Justice Warren Burger

Justice Burger served as the 15th Chief Justice.  He presided over the Court for 17 years.

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On This Date in Legal History

Mary Church Terrell was an African-American civil rights activist. She fought to desegregate Washington D.C. In 1949, she and others visited a segregated popular restaurant, John R. Thompson Co., Inc.  The restaurant refused to serve those who weren’t white. A lawsuit ensued that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court.

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell

On June 8, 1953, the Court held that the restaurant’s refusal to serve a patron based solely on his or her race was illegal in D.C. Read the decision at https://goo.gl/qfXwkW and about Mary Church Terrell at https://goo.gl/gCIiV6.

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On This Date in Legal History

A physician and Estelle Griswold, the Executive Director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Connecticut, were convicted of violating a state law that prohibited the prescribing of birth control to married couples. They appealed their convictions to the United States Supreme Court.  In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court held on June 7, 1965, that the law was unconstitutional and reversed the defendants’ convictions.

Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League, standing outside the center on April, 1963. Photo courtesy of Time & Life pictures.

Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League, standing outside the center on April, 1963. Photo courtesy of Time & Life pictures.

Justice Douglas, writing for the majority of the court, explained that the law violated the “right to marital privacy.” He wrote—“the right of privacy which presses for recognition here is a legitimate one. The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees.” You can listen to the oral argument before the Supreme Court at http://goo.gl/vAyyjK.  

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 6, 1946, President Truman nominated Fred M. Vinson to be the 13th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed his nomination, and on June 24, 1946, he was sworn in. He served on the Court for seven years. During his tenure he dealt with many hotbed issues including racial segregation.

Fred Vinson (January 22, 1890 – September 8, 1953) was appointed by President Truman as chief justice of the Supreme Court (1946 – 1953).

Fred Vinson served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from June 24, 1946 — Sep 8, 1953.

He authored both the McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education et al, and Sweatt v. Painter et al decisions. See https://goo.gl/JF9NkJ.  To learn more about Chief Justice Vinson go to https://goo.gl/atyIKR.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 5, 1950, the United States Supreme Court handed down two decisions that dealt with racial segregation in higher learning institutions. In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education et al, George McLaurin, an African American student, alleged his constitutional rights were violated when he was assigned to sit in a particular row designated for “colored students” in class, in the library and in the cafeteria.

Classroom Seating Arrangement to Accommodate African American Law Student, McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents, United States Circuit Court for the Western District, Oklahoma City Division, RG 21, National Archives Southwest Region.

The classroom seating arrangement to accommodate African American law student George McLaurin. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The Court agreed that it was unconstitutional to treat students differently solely on the basis of one’s race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Sweatt v. Painter et al, the University of Texas Law School refused to admit an African American student, Heman Sweatt, on the basis of his race. The State of Texas established another law school for African Americans, and that school did admit him; however, Sweatt refused to register. He claimed that the school was inferior.

Photograph, Heman Sweatt registering for classes at UT Law. Image courtesy of the University of Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Heman Sweatt registering for classes at University of Texas Law School. Image courtesy of the University of Texas.

The Court (unanimously) sided with Heman Sweatt finding that the University of Texas Law School was “superior.” They ordered that he be admitted.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 4, 1990, the United States Supreme Court decided Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens. The case involved public high school students who tried to create a student-led, voluntary, Christian bible study club. The students intended to meet after hours on school grounds, but the school board denied their request to form the club. They felt the club would violate the Establishment Clause. The students sued the Board of Education, and the United States Supreme Court found in their favor (in an 8-1 decision).

Sandra Day O'Connor being sworn in a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger. Her husband, John O'Connor, looks on. (Sept. 25, 1981). Picture courtesy the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration.

Justice O’Connor authored the majority decision in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens. In this photo, taken September 25, 1981, she’s being sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice, with her husband by her side. Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration.

You can read the entire decision at http://bit.ly/1BN3HtC, and watch an informative video regarding this landmark case at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l4_01VbfIY.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 3, 2011, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, dubbed “Doctor Death,” passed away. He was the first American doctor to aggressively advocate for physician-assisted suicide. He assisted many terminally ill individuals die, using an unconventional method– homemade suicide machines. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 (when he represented himself). PBS has an informative timeline that traces his life and work as a crusader in this controversial area at http://goo.gl/HfoQaK. In addition, HBO is showing a movie now about him, and the legal challenges he faced– You Don’t Know Jack. CNN has an informative article, Physician-Assisted Suicide Fast Facts. It summarizes the various state laws in this area at  http://goo.gl/1veZJJ.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 2, 1924, President Coolidge sighed into law the Indian Citizenship Act.

President Coolidge at the White House with Native Americans

President Coolidge at the White House with Native Americans

The Act granted citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States. It authorized the Secretary of the Interior to issue certificates of citizenship. Read the original document here at https://goo.gl/10OPaC.

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On This Date in Legal History

President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis to the United States Supreme Court.

Louis Brandeis

Louis Brandeis

On June 1, 1916, the Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 47-22, and he was sworn in on June 5, 1916. He served on the Court until February 13, 1939. Justice Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. Learn more about him by listening to an interview with Melvin Urofsky, author of “Louis Brandeis: A Life”– https://goo.gl/YldFvB.

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On This Date in Legal History

The United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ordered public schools to integrate, stating– “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

School Integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C. Photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran, May 27, 1955. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.03119

School Integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C. Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran, May 27, 1955. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.03119

On May 31, 1955, the Supreme Court revisited integrating the schools to determine how to facilitate the transition. The Court held that school authorities had primary responsibility to implement the changes, and ordered the lower courts to maintain jurisdiction to insure the transition occurred “at the earliest practicable date.” Read the entire decision at http://goo.gl/SBNIM0.

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Learn About the Supreme Court

C-Span’s website at http://supremecourt.c-span.org offers a wealth of information about the United States Supreme Court.  Visitors can take a virtual tour of the Old Supreme Court chambers, located in the U.S. Capitol building.  The Court met there from 1810-1860.  Chief Justice William Howard Taft (the only President to have served on the Supreme Court) ably argued for the Court to move to its current location.  You’ll hear the Justices discuss their work and relationships on the Court.  Justice Brandeis’ grandson describes his grandfather’s experience as a Justice, including how he faced anti-Semitism by Justice McReynolds.  The Supreme Court blogger, Lyle Dennison, speaks to the “rhythm” of the Court, for example, how newsworthy decisions are usually announced at the end of each term.  Joan Biskupic, the Supreme Court reporter for USA Today, explains the role of the Chief Justice and describes certain personalities on the Court.  There are many fascinating tidbits disclosed — take a look now.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1912, Beys Afroyim immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 1926. In 1950 he went to Israel, and the following year voted in their elections. When he tried to renew his passport in 1960, the State Department refused his request, citing the Nationality Act of 1940. That Act stripped Americans of their citizenship if they voted in foreign elections. Afroyim sued the Secretary of State alleging that it was a violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments to annul his citizenship, which he hadn’t renounced. The United States Supreme Court agreed (in a 5-4 decision).

Taken in a park in New York City in 1947. Original photo is now at the Austrian National Library.

Beys Afroyim with his son in 1947. The original photo is at the Austrian National Library.

On May 29, 1967, Justice Black, writing for the majority of the Court, explained– the government had no legal authority to “rob a citizen of his citizenship.” The opinion quotes Former Chief Justice Marshall who once said—Congress enjoys the “power to confer citizenship, not a power to take it away.”

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On This Date in Legal History

On May 28, 1982, Ishmael Jaffree filed a complaint on behalf of his children against teachers, administrators and school board officials in Mobile, Alabama.  The complaint alleged that his children were “subjected to various acts of religious indoctrination” at their public school.  At issue was an Alabama law that had the express purpose of bringing “meditation or voluntary prayer” back into the public schools.  A lower court found that the establishment clause of the first amendment imposed no restraint on a state establishing a religion.  The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed in a 6-3 decision.

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Justice Stevens, writing for the majority in Wallace v. Jaffree stated, “the government must pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion.”  Learn more about this case at https://goo.gl/vL3xwo.

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On This Date in Legal History

In August 1965 a law passed that made it a federal crime to destroy or mutilate a draft card. On March 31, 1966, David Paul O’Brien, and three others, burnt their Selective Service registration certificates to show their opposition to the Vietnam War. O’Brien was arrested, convicted and sentenced for violating the law. He appealed his conviction arguing that the federal law was unconstitutional because it abridged his freedom of speech. On January 24, 1968, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. O’Brien. You can listen to the arguments at http://goo.gl/VWY6Zy.

Student protesters marching down Langdon Street at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the Vietnam War era. UW Digital Collections

Student protesters marching down Langdon Street at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the Vietnam War era.
UW Digital Collections

On May 27, 1968, the Supreme Court issued a (7-1) decision that sided with the U.S. Government. Chief Justice Earl Warren explained that symbolic speech was not protected in this situation given the Government’s substantial interest in a “smooth and proper functioning of the system that Congress has established to raise armies.”

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1984, Congress passed the Bail Reform Act. This legislation requires courts to detain persons charged with serious crimes, before trial, if the government can show they are a danger to society. Two men (detained pretrial) challenged the Act as unconstitutional. They claimed that the law violated their Fifth and Eleventh Amendment rights. The United States Supreme Court in United States v. Salerno disagreed (in a 6-3 decision).

Mob boss Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno

Mob boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno

Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority on May 26, 1987, explained that there were procedural safeguards in place that protected the suspected criminal’s rights. For example, arrestees are guaranteed a hearing to contest their detention, as well as a speedy trial. The Court decided that the community’s safety can outweigh an individual’s liberty under certain circumstances.

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On This Date in Legal History

On May 26, 2009, President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court.

 United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Prior to her becoming the first Latina to sit on the Court she practiced for many years as an attorney, and served as a judge on the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Read more about her background at https://goo.gl/3d9TFl.

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On This Date in Legal History

After Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the County Board of Supervisors in Prince Edward, Louisiana, tried to circumvent integrating their public schools by not funding them, thus forcing them to close. Meanwhile, they assisted white families financially (by providing tuition grants and tax concessions), so they could send their children to white-only private schools. African American students filed a lawsuit– Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County. The case made its way up to the United States Supreme Court. On May 25th, 1964, the Supreme Court held the County’s actions were unconstitutional.

Justice Hugo Black

Justice Hugo Black

Justice Black, writing for the majority, stated– “closing the Prince Edward schools and meanwhile contributing to the support of the private segregated white schools that took their place denied petitioners [African American children] the equal protection of the law.”

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