Identify two Supreme Court cases that have had an impact on civil liberties in the United States. For each cases identified: discuss the historical circumstances of the case; explain the Court's decision in the case; and discuss the impact of the decision on American society.
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If civil liberties is the point of discussion, then two cases must be put at the head of the list. Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Ed. (1954). In Plessy, the court had held that certain southern state and local laws establishing segregation in public facilities (schools, bathrooms and the like) were constitutional; so long as the facilities in question were "separate but equal." The court never defined the term "equal" by the way; which led to the next 50 or so years of history in the south being a segregated history. Brown v Board, of course overturns the Plessy case... although once again, the court failed to express their legal meaning in their decision; saying that the state governments had to desegregate in a "timely fashion."
I would include Schenck v. US (1919) in any discussion of important civil liberties cases. In this case the Court ruled that speech that posed a "clear and present danger" to the security of the United States was not protected by the First Amendment. It established, in other words, a test for determining the limits of First Amendment protections for free speech. The case stemmed from the prosecution of Socialist Party official Charles Schenck under the Espionage Act of 1917, a measure designed to squelch dissent during World War I. Schenck had been circulating literature that encouraged Americans to resist the draft.
Mapp v. Ohio has to be one of the most important. This is the case that applied the exclusionary rule to state governments. That rule serves as one of the major ways in which our civil liberties (mainly the right against unreasonable searches and seizures) is protected.
The right to due process may be as old as the Magna Carta, and it is guaranteed to American residents in the 5th and 14th Amendments.
Here's an example of the application of the right to due process which might rattle your teacher's cage.
Dred Scott v Sandfore in 1857 established that the Due Process Clause in the 5th Amendment is not merely a procedural guarantee, but also a "substantive" limitation on the type of control the government may exercise over individuals.
Of course, the Dred Scott case established that slaves could not be citizens, and one or all of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments overtunred that part of Dred Scott. However, the notion of substantive due process has has been applied in many cases involving implied rights which are not enumberated in the Constitution. It has led to other rules like "strict scrutiny," which rather ironically have been used to examine any classification based on race, national origin, sex, or age.
One must wonder if Chief Justice Taney had known that idea of substantive due process would become strict scrutiny, he might have set Dred Scott Free, and the United States might have avoided the Civil War.
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