We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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Lesson 9 Court Cases

Baker v. Carr (1962)
Facts of the Case:
Charles W. Baker and other Tennessee citizens alleged that a 1901 law designed to apportion the seats for the state's general assembly was virtually ignored. Baker's suit detailed how Tennessee's reapportionment efforts ignored significant economic growth and population shifts within the state.

Question:
Did the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over questions of legislative apportionment?

Conclusion:
Yes. In an opinion which explored the nature of "political questions" and the appropriateness of Court action in them, the Court held that there were no such questions to be answered in this case and that legislative apportionment was a justiciable issue. In his opinion, Justice Brennan provided past examples in which the Court had intervened to correct constitutional violations in matters pertaining to state administration and the officers through whom state affairs are conducted. Brennan concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection issues which Baker and others raised in this case merited judicial evaluation.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1960/1960_6)


Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
Facts of the Case:
Brandenburg, a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, made a speech at a Klan rally and was later convicted under an Ohio criminal syndicalism law. The law made it illegal to advocate "crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform," as well as assembling "with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism."

Question:
Did Ohio's criminal syndicalism law, prohibiting public speech that advocates various illegal activities, violate Brandenburg's right to free speech as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Conclusion:
Yes. The Court issued a majority opinion by the Court itself (not a signed one) that held that the Ohio law violated Brandenburg's right to free speech. The Court used a two-pronged test to evaluate speech acts: Speech can be prohibited if it is (1) "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and it is (2) "likely to incite or produce such action." The criminal syndicalism act made illegal the advocacy and teaching of doctrines while ignoring whether or not that advocacy and teaching would actually incite imminent lawless action. The failure to make this distinction rendered the law overly broad and in violation of the Constitution.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_492)


Cooley v. Board of Wardens (1852)
Facts of the Case:
A Pennsylvania law required that all ships entering or leaving the port of Philadelphia hire local pilots. Ships that failed to do so would be subject to a fine, which would go to a fund for retired pilots and their dependents. This fund was administered by the Board of Wardens of the Port of Philadelphia. Cooley was a ship owner. He refused to hire a local pilot and he also refused to pay the fine.

Question:
Does the law violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution?

Conclusion:
No. According to Justice Curtis, who wrote the majority opinion, the pilotage law did not violate the Constitution. Congress had provided in 1789 that state pilotage laws should govern. Navigation was commerce and piloting was navigation. Though the subject to be regulated was commerce, the interesting twist here was whether the commerce power was exlusive. Some subjects demand a single uniform rule for the whole nation, while others, like pilotage, demand diverse local rules to cope with varying local conditions. The power of Congress was therefore selectively exclusive.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Cooley v. Board of Wardens, 53 U.S. 299 (1852) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1851-1900/1851/1851_0)


Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
Facts of the Case:
A New York state law gave two individuals the exclusive right to operate steamboats on waters within state jurisdiction. Laws like this one were duplicated elsewhere which led to friction as some states would require foreign (out-of-state) boats to pay substantial fees for navigation privileges. In this case a steamboat owner who did business between New York and New Jersey challenged the monopoly that New York had granted, which forced him to obtain a special operating permit from the state to navigate on its waters.

Question:
Did the State of New York exercise authority in a realm reserved exclusively to Congress, namely, the regulation of interstate commerce?

Conclusion:
Yes. The Court found that New York's licensing requirement for out-of-state operators was inconsistent with a congressional act regulating the coasting trade. The New York law was invalid by virtue of the Supremacy Clause. In his opinion, Chief Justice Marshall developed a clear definition of the word commerce, which included navigation on interstate waterways. He also gave meaning to the phrase "among the several states" in the Commerce Clause. Marshall's was one of the earliest and most influential opinions concerning this important clause. He concluded that regulation of navigation by steamboat operators and others for purposes of conducting interstate commerce was a power reserved to and exercised by Congress.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1824/1824_0)


Gonzales v. Raich (2005)
Facts of the Case:
In 1996 California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing marijuana for medical use. California's law conflicted with the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which banned possession of marijuana. After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized doctor-prescribed marijuana from a patient's home, a group of medical marijuana users sued the DEA and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in federal district court. The medical marijuana users argued the Controlled Substances Act--which Congress passed using its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce--exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause power. The district court ruled against the group. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ruled the CSA unconstitutional as it applied to intrastate (within a state) medical marijuana use. Relying on two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that narrowed Congress's Commerce Clause power--U.S. v. Lopez (1995) and U.S. v. Morrison (2000)--the Ninth Circuit ruled using medical marijuana did not "substantially affect" interstate commerce and therefore could not be regulated by Congress.

Question:
Does the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801) exceed Congress's power under the Commerce Clause as applied to the intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical use?

Conclusion:
No. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Court held that the Commerce Clause gave Congress authority to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana, despite state law to the contrary. Stevens argued that the Court's precedent "firmly established" Congress' Commerce Clause power to regulate purely local activities that are part of a "class of activities" with a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The majority argued that Congress could ban local marijuana use because it was part of such a "class of activities": the national marijuana market. Local use affected supply and demand in the national marijuana market, making the regulation of intrastate use "essential" to regulating the drug's national market. The majority distinguished the case from Lopez and Morrison. In those cases, statutes regulated non-economic activity and fell entirely outside Congress' commerce power; in this case, the Court was asked to strike down a particular application of a valid statutory scheme.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_1454)


Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964)
Facts of the Case:
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination by places of public accommodation if their operations affected commerce. The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, refused to accept black Americans and was charged with violating Title II.

Question:
Did Congress, in passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, exceed its Commerce Clause powers by depriving motels, such as the Heart of Atlanta, of the right to choose their own customers?

Conclusion:
No. The Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate local incidents of commerce, and that the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed constitutional muster. The Court noted that the applicability of Title II was "carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people..." The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no "right" to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S., 379 U.S. 241 (1964) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1964/1964_515)


McCullough v. Maryland (1819)
Facts of the Case:
In 1816, Congress chartered The Second Bank of the United States. In 1818, the state of Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. James W. McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the bank, refused to pay the tax.

Question:
The case presented two questions: Did Congress have the authority to establish the bank? Did the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers?

Conclusion:
Yes. No. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that Congress had the power to incorporate the bank and that Maryland could not tax instruments of the national government employed in the execution of constitutional powers. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Marshall noted that Congress possessed unenumerated powers not explicitly outlined in the Constitution. Marshall also held that while the states retained the power of taxation, "the constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme...they control the constitution and laws of the respective states, and cannot be controlled by them."

Citation
The Oyez Project, McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1819/1819_0)


National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel (1937)
Facts of the Case:
With the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, Congress determined that labor-management disputes were directly related to the flow of interstate commerce and, thus, could be regulated by the national government. In this case, the National Labor Relations Board charged the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. with discriminating against employees who were union members.

Question:
Was the act consistent with the Commerce Clause?

Conclusion:
Yes. The Court held that the act was narrowly constructed so as to regulate industrial activities which had the potential to restrict interstate commerce. The justices abandoned their claim that labor relations had only an indirect effect on commerce. Since the ability of employees to engage in collective bargaining (one activity protected by the act) is "an essential condition of industrial peace," the national government was justified in penalizing corporations engaging in interstate commerce which "refuse to confer and negotiate" with their workers.

Citation
The Oyez Project, NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1 (1937) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1936/1936_419)


Printz v. United States (1997)
Facts of the Case:
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill) required "local chief law enforcement officers" (CLEOs) to perform background checks on prospective handgun purchasers, until such time as the Attorney General establishes a federal system for this purpose. County sheriffs Jay Printz and Richard Mack, separately challenged the constitutionality of this interim provision of the Brady Bill on behalf of CLEOs in Montana and Arizona, respectively. In both cases district courts found the background checks unconstitutional, but ruled that since this requirement was severable from the rest of the Brady Bill a voluntary background check system could remain. On appeal from the Ninth Circuit's ruling that the interim background check provisions were constitutional, the Supreme Court consolidated and heard the cases, deciding this one along with Mack v. United States.

Question:
Using the necessary and proper clause of Article I as justification, can Congress temporarily require state CLEOs to regulate handgun purchases by performing those duties called for by the Brady Bill's handgun applicant background checks?

Conclusion:
No. The Court constructed its opinion on the old principle that state legislatures are not subject to federal direction. The Court explained that while Congress may require the federal government to regulate commerce directly, in this case by performing background checks on applicants for handgun ownership, the Necessary and Proper Clause does not empower it to compel state CLEOs to fulfill its federal tasks for it--even temporarily. The Court added that the Brady Bill could not require CLEOs to perform the related tasks of disposing of handgun-application forms or notifying certain applicants of the reasons for their refusal in writing, since the Brady Bill reserved such duties only for those CLEO's who voluntarily accepted them.

Citation
The Oyez Project, Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_95_1478)


Wesberry v. Sanders (1964)
Facts of the Case:
James P. Wesberry, Jr. filed a suit against Georgia governor Carl E. Sanders, protesting the state's apportionment scheme. The Fifth Congressional District, of which Wesberry was a member, had a population two to three times larger than some of the other districts in the state. Wesberry claimed this system diluted his right to vote compared to other Georgia residents.

Question:
Did Georgia's congressional districts violate the Fourteenth Amendment or deprive citizens of the full benefit of their right to vote?

Conclusion:
Yes. The Court held that Georgia's apportionment scheme grossly discriminated against voters in the Fifth Congressional District. Because a single congressman had to represent two to three times as many people as were represented by congressmen in other districts, the Georgia statute contracted the value of some votes and expanded the value of others. The Court recognized that "no right is more precious" than that of having a voice in elections and held that "to say that a vote is worth more in one district than in another would not only run counter to our fundamental ideas of democratic government, it would cast aside the principle of a House of Representatives elected 'by the People.'"

Citation
The Oyez Project, Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964) available at: (http://oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1963/1963_22)

Lesson 9      How Was the Philadelphia Convention Organized?
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