We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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Lesson 37 Court Cases

Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (2002)
Facts of the Case:
Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) to prevent minors from accessing pornography online. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and online publishers sued in federal court to prevent enforcement of the act, arguing that it violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The district court agreed. On appeal, a Third Circuit court of appeals panel affirmed, holding that because the act used "community standards" to decide which material was harmful to minors, it would prohibit material that was felt offensive in the most "puritanical" communities from being displayed in more "tolerant" ones. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the "community standards" provision alone did not make the act unconstitutional and sent the case back to the Third Circuit for further evaluation. The Third Circuit again prohibited implementation of the act, holding that it was likely to fail the "strict scrutiny" test because it was not narrowly tailored--that is, it prevented online publishers from publishing some material that adults had a right to access-and because it did not use the least restrictive means possible to protect children (the court found that blocking software installed on home computers by parents would do as good a job without preventing free speech). For similar reasons, the panel found that the act was unconstitutionally "overbroad"--that is, it applied to too much protected material.

Question:
Is the Child Online Protection Act's requirement that online publishers prevent children from accessing "material that is harmful to minors" likely to violate the First Amendment by restricting too much protected speech and using a method that is not the least restrictive one available?

Conclusion:
Yes. In a 5-to-4 vote, with Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Thomas and Ginsburg on one side and Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia, Breyer and O'Connor on the other, the Court found that Congress had not yet met its burden to show that the COPA requirements were more effective than other methods of preventing minors. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion, wrote that the district court's injunction "was not an abuse of discretion, because on this record there are a number of plausible, less restrictive alternatives to the statute." The majority also emphasized that barring the statute's enforcement during the trial would be less harmful than allowing it, because allowing it would be likely to prevent online publishers from publishing certain material.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 542 U.S. 656 (2004) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_218)


Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
Facts of the Case:
In the wake of the Watergate affair, Congress attempted to ferret out corruption in political campaigns by restricting financial contributions to candidates. Among other things, the law set limits on the amount of money an individual could contribute to a single campaign and it required reporting of contributions above a certain threshold amount. The Federal Election Commission was created to enforce the statute.

Question:
Did the limits placed on electoral expenditures by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech and association clauses?

Conclusion:
In this complicated case, the Court arrived at two important conclusions. First, it held that restrictions on individual contributions to political campaigns and candidates did not violate the First Amendment since the limitations of the FECA enhance the "integrity of our system of representative democracy" by guarding against unscrupulous practices. Second, the Court found that governmental restriction of independent expenditures in campaigns, the limitation on expenditures by candidates from their own personal or family resources, and the limitation on total campaign expenditures did violate the First Amendment. Since these practices do not necessarily enhance the potential for corruption that individual contributions to candidates do, the Court found that restricting them did not serve a government interest great enough to warrant a curtailment on free speech and association.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1975/1975_75_436)


Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837)
Facts of the Case:
In 1785, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated the Charles River Bridge Company to construct a bridge and collect tolls. In 1828, the legislature established the Warren Bridge Company to build a toll-free bridge nearby. Unsurprisingly, the new bridge deprived the old one of traffic and tolls. The Charles River Bridge Company filed suit, claiming the legislature had defaulted on its initial contract.

Question:
Did the legislature enter into an economic contract with the Charles River Bridge Company that was impaired by the second charter in violation of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution?

Conclusion:
No. In a 6-to-2 decision, the Court held that the state had not entered a contract that prohibited the construction of another bridge on the river at a later date. The Court held that the legislature neither gave exclusive control over the waters of the river nor invaded corporate privilege by interfering with the company's profit-making ability. In balancing the rights of private property against the need for economic development, the Court found that the community interest in creating new channels of travel and trade had priority.

Citation
Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 36 U.S. 420 (1837), http://www.oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1836/1836_0


Cruzan v. Missouri Department of Health (1990)
Facts of the Case:
In 1983, Nancy Beth Cruzan was involved in an automobile accident which left her in a "persistent vegetative state." She was sustained for several weeks by artificial feedings through an implanted gastronomy tube. When Cruzan's parents attempted to terminate the life-support system, state hospital officials refused to do so without court approval. The Missouri supreme court ruled in favor of the state's policy over Cruzan's right to refuse treatment.

Question:
Did the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permit Cruzan's parents to refuse life-sustaining treatment on their vegitated daughter's behalf?

Conclusion:
No. In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that while individuals enjoyed the right to refuse medical treatment under the Due Process Clause, incompetent persons were not able to exercise such rights. Absent "clear and convincing" evidence that Cruzan desired treatment to be withdrawn, the Court found the State of Missouri's actions designed to preserve human life to be constitutional. Because there was no guarantee family members would always act in the best interests of incompetent patients, and because erroneous decisions to withdraw treatment were irreversible, the Court upheld the state's heightened evidentiary requirements.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1503)


Gonzales v. Oregon (2006)
Facts of the Case:
In 1994 Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act, the first state law authorizing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of controlled substances to terminally ill patients. Attorney General John Ashcroft declared in 2001 that physician-assisted suicide violated the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). Ashcroft threatened to revoke the medical licenses of physicians who took part in the practice. Oregon sued Ashcroft in federal district court. That court and, later the Ninth Circuit, held Ashcroft''s directive illegal. The courts held that the CSA did not authorize the attorney general to regulate physician-assisted suicide, which was the sort of medical matter historically entrusted to the states.

Question:
Did the Controlled Substances Act authorize the attorney general to ban the use of controlled substances for physician-assisted suicide in Oregon?

Conclusion:
No. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held that Congress intended the CSA to prevent doctors only from engaging in illicit drug dealing, not to define general standards of state medical practice. Moreover, the CSA did not authorize Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare a medical practice authorized under state law to be illegitimate.

Citation
Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. ___ (2006), http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2005/2005_04_623


Kelo v. City of New London (2005)
Facts of the Case:
New London, a city in Connecticut, used its eminent domain authority to seize private property to sell to private developers. The city said developing the land would create jobs and increase tax revenues. Kelo Susette and others whose property were seized sued New London in state court. The property owners argued the city violated the Fifth Amendment's takings clause, which guaranteed the government will not take private property for public use without just compensation. Specifically the property owners argued taking private property to sell to private developers was not public use. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled for New London.

Question:
Does a city violate the Fifth Amendment's takings clause if the city takes private property and sells it for private development, with the hopes the development will help the city's bad economy?

Conclusion:
No. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the majority held that the city's taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a "public use" within the meaning of the takings clause. The city was not taking the land simply to benefit a certain group of private individuals, but was following an economic development plan. Such justifications for land takings, the majority argued, should be given deference. The takings here qualified as "public use" despite the fact that the land was not going to be used by the public. The Fifth Amendment did not require "literal" public use, the majority said, but the "broader and more natural interpretation of public use as 'public purpose.'"

Citation
The Oyez Project, Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. ___ (2005) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_04_108)


Kyllo v. United States (2001)
Facts of the Case:
A Department of the Interior agent, suspicious that Danny Kyllo was growing marijuana, used a thermal imaging device to scan his home. The imaging was to be used to determine if the amount of heat emanating from the home was consistent with the high-intensity lamps typically used for indoor marijuana growth. Subsequently, the imaging revealed that relatively hot areas existed, compared to the rest of the home. Based on informants, utility bills, and the thermal imaging, a federal magistrate judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo's home. The search unveiled growing marijuana. After Kyllo was indicted on a federal drug charge, he unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home and then entered a conditional guilty plea. Ultimately affirming, the court of appeals held that Kyllo had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home, and even if he had, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the imager "did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo's life," only "amorphous 'hot spots' on the roof and exterior wall."

Question:
Does the use of a thermal imaging device to detect relative amounts of heat emanating from a private home constitute an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Conclusion:
Yes. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court held that "[w]here, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a 'search' and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant." In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the "observations were made with a fairly primitive thermal imager that gathered data exposed on the outside of [Kyllo's] home but did not invade any constitutionally protected interest in privacy," and were, thus, "information in the public domain."

Citation
The Oyez Project, Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_8508)


McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003)
Facts of the Case:
In early 2002, a many years-long effort by Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold to reform the way that money is raised for--and spent during--political campaigns culminated in the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (the so-called McCain-Feingold bill). Its key provisions were a) a ban on unrestricted ("soft money") donations made directly to political parties (often by corporations, unions, or well-heeled individuals) and on the solicitation of those donations by elected officials; b) limits on the advertising that unions, corporations, and non-profit organizations can engage in up to 60 days prior to an election; and c) restrictions on political parties' use of their funds for advertising on behalf of candidates (in the form of "issue ads" or "coordinated expenditures"). The campaign finance reform bill contained an unusual provision providing for an early federal trial and a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, bypassing the typical federal judicial process. In May of that year, a special three-judge panel struck down portions of the act's ban on soft-money donations but upheld some of the its restrictions on the kind of advertising that parties can engage in. The ruling was stayed until the Supreme Court could hear and decide the resulting appeals.

Question:
1. Does the "soft money" ban of the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 exceed Congress's authority to regulate elections under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution and/or violate the First Amendment's protection of the freedom to speak? 2. Do regulations of the source, content, or timing of political advertising in the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 violate the First Amendment's free speech clause?

Conclusion:
With a few exceptions, the Court answered "no" to both questions in a 5-to-4 decision written by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens. Because the regulations dealt mostly with soft-money contributions that were used to register voters and increase attendance at the polls, not with campaign expenditures (which are more explicitly a statement of political values and therefore deserve more protection), the Court held that the restriction on free speech was minimal. It then found that the restriction was justified by the government's legitimate interest in preventing "both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and...the appearance of corruption" that might result from those contributions. In response to challenges that the law was too broad and unnecessarily regulated conduct that had not been shown to cause corruption (such as advertisements paid for by corporations or unions), the Court found that such regulation was necessary to prevent the groups from circumventing the law. Justices O'Connor and Stevens wrote that "money, like water, will always find an outlet" and that the government was therefore justified in taking steps to prevent schemes developed to get around the contribution limits. The Court also rejected the argument that Congress had exceeded its authority to regulate elections under Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution. The Court found that the law only affected state elections in which federal candidates were involved and also that it did not prevent states from creating separate election laws for state and local elections.

Citation
The Oyez Project, McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_02_1674)


Reno v. ACLU (1997)
Facts of the Case:
Several litigants challenged the constitutionality of two provisions in the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Intended to protect minors from unsuitable internet material, the Act criminalized the intentional transmission of "obscene or indecent" messages as well as the transmission of information which depicts or describes "sexual or excretory activities or organs" in a manner deemed "offensive" by community standards. After being prohibited by a district court from enforcing the above provisions, except for the one concerning obscenity and its inherent protection against child pornography, Attorney General Janet Reno appealed directly to the Supreme Court as provided for by the Act's special review provisions.

Question:
Did certain provisions of the 1996 Communications Decency Act violate the First and Fifth Amendments by being overly broad and vague in their definitions of the types of internet communications which they criminalized?

Conclusion:
Yes. The Court held that the act violated the First Amendment because its regulations amounted to a content-based blanket restriction of free speech. The act failed to clearly define "indecent" communications, limit its restrictions to particular times or individuals (by showing that it would not impact on adults), provide supportive statements from an authority on the unique nature of internet communications, or conclusively demonstrate that the transmission of "offensive" material is devoid of any social value. The Court added that since the First Amendment distinguishes between "indecent" and "obscene" sexual expressions, protecting only the former, the act could be preserved if it dropped the words "or indecent" from its text. The Court refused to address any Fifth Amendment issues.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_96_511)


U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995)
Facts of the Case:
On November 3, 1992, Arkansas voters adopted Amendment 73 to their State Constitution. The "Term Limitation Amendment," in addition to limiting terms of elected officials within the Arkansas state government, also provided that any person who served three or more terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a U.S. Representative from Arkansas. Similarly, the Amendment provided that any person who served two or more terms as a member of the United States Senate from Arkansas would be ineligible for re-election as a U.S. Senator from Arkansas.

Question:
Can states alter those qualifications for the U.S. Congress that are specifically enumerated in the Constitution?

Conclusion:
No. The Constitution prohibits States from adopting Congressional qualifications in addition to those enumerated in the Constitution. A state congressional term limits amendment is unconstitutional if it has the likely effect of handicapping a class of candidates and "has the sole purpose of creating additional qualifications indirectly." Furthermore, "allowing individual States to craft their own congressional qualifications would erode the structure designed by the Framers to form a 'more perfect Union.'"

Citation
The Oyez Project, U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1994/1994_93_1456)


Vacco v. Quill (1997)
Facts of the Case:
Dr. Timothy E. Quill, along with other physicians and three seriously ill patients who have since died, challenged the constitutionality of the New York state's ban on physician-assisted suicide. New York's ban, while permitting patients to refuse lifesaving treatment on their own, has historically made it a crime for doctors to help patients commit or attempt suicide, even if patients are terminally ill or in great pain. Following a district court ruling favoring the state of New York, the Second Circuit reversed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Question:
Did New York's ban on physician-assisted suicide violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause by allowing competent terminally ill adults to withdraw their own lifesaving treatment, but denying the same right to patients who could not withdraw their own treatment and could only hope that a physician would do so for them?

Conclusion:
No. Employing a rationality test to examine the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause, the Court held that New York's ban was rationally related to the state's legitimate interest in protecting medical ethics, preventing euthanasia, shielding the disabled and terminally ill from prejudice which might encourage them to end their lives, and, above all, the preservation of human life. Moreover, while acknowledging the difficulty of its task, the Court distinguished between the refusal of lifesaving treatment and assisted suicide, by noting that the latter involves the criminal elements of causation and intent. No matter how noble a physician's motives may be, he may not deliberately cause, hasten, or aid a patient's death.

Citation
Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793 (1997), http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1858


Washington v. Glucksberg (1997)
Facts of the Case:
Dr. Harold Glucksberg--along with four other physicians, three terminally ill patients who have since died, and a nonprofit organization that counsels individuals contemplating physician assisted-suicide--brought this suit challenging the state of Washington's ban on physician assisted-suicide. The state of Washington has historically criminalized the promotion of suicide attempts by those who "knowingly cause or aid another person to attempt suicide." Glucksberg alleged that Washington's ban was unconstitutional. Following a district court ruling favoring Glucksberg and his fellow petitioners, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision and the Supreme Court agreed to hear Washington's case.

Question:
Did Washington's ban on physician assisted-suicide violate the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause by denying competent terminally ill adults the liberty to choose death over life?

Conclusion:
No. Analyzing the guarantees of the Due Process Clause, the Court focused on two primary aspects: the protection of our nation's objective fundamental, historically rooted, rights and liberties; and the cautious definition of what constitutes a due process liberty interest. The Court held that the right to assisted suicide is not a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause since its practice has been, and continues to be, offensive to our national traditions and practices. Moreover, employing a rationality test, the Court held that Washington's ban was rationally related to the state's legitimate interest in protecting medical ethics, shielding disabled and terminally ill people from prejudice which might encourage them to end their lives, and, above all, the preservation of human life.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_96_110)

Lesson 37      What Key Challenges Does the United States Face in the Future?
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