Civil Liberties Part 1

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Part one of the SCOTUS cases related to civil liberties.

Resource summary

Civil Liberties Part 1
  1. Gitlow v. New York
    1. Background: Gitlow, a socialist, was arrested for distributing copies of a "left-wing manifesto" that called for the establishment of socialism through strikes and class action of any form. Gitlow was convicted under a state criminal anarchy law, which punished advocating the overthrow of the government by force. At his trial, Gitlow argued that since there was no resulting action flowing from the manifesto's publication, the statute penalized utterences without propensity to incitement of concrete action. The New York courts had decided that anyone who advocated the doctrine of violent revolution violated the law.
      1. Question: Is the New York law punishing advocacy to overthrow the government by force an unconstitutional violation of the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
        1. Conclusion: Threshold issue: Does the First Amendment apply to the states? Yes, by virtue of the liberty protected by due process that no state shall deny (14th Amendment). On the merits, a state may forbid both speech and publication if they have a tendency to result in action dangerous to public security, even though such utterances create no clear and present danger. The rationale of the majority has sometimes been called the "dangerous tendency" test. The legislature may decide that an entire class of speech is so dangerous that it should be prohibited. Those legislative decisions will be upheld if not unreasonable, and the defendant will be punished even if her speech created no danger at all.
        2. Weeks v. United States
          1. Background: Police entered the home of Fremont Weeks and seized papers which were used to convict him of transporting lottery tickets through the mail. This was done without a search warrant. Weeks took action against the police and petitioned for the return of his private possessions.
            1. Question: Did the search and seizure of Weeks' home violate the Fourth Amendment?
              1. Conclusion: In a unanimous decision, the Court held that the seizure of items from Weeks' residence directly violated his constitutional rights. The Court also held that the government's refusal to return Weeks' possessions violated the Fourth Amendment. To allow private documents to be seized and then held as evidence against citizens would have meant that the protection of the Fourth Amendment declaring the right to be secure against such searches and seizures would be of no value whatsoever. This was the first application of what eventually became known as the "exclusionary rule."
              2. Wolf v. Colorado
                1. Background: Julius A. Wolf, Charles H. Fulton, and Betty Fulton were charged with conspiracy to perform an abortion. At trial, Wolf objected to evidence material and admissible as to his co-defendants would be inadmissible if he were tried separately. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld all three convictions in which evidence was admitted that would have been inadmissible in a prosecution for violation of a federal law in a federal court.
                  1. Question: Were the states required to exclude illegally seized evidence from trial under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments?
                    1. Conclusion: In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not subject criminal justice in the states to specific limitations and that illegally obtained evidence did not have to be excluded from trials in all cases. The Court reasoned that while the exclusion of evidence may have been an effective way to deter unreasonable searches, other methods could be equally effective and would not fall below the minimal standards assured by the Due Process Clause. Civil remedies, such as "the internal discipline of the police, under the eyes of an alert public opinion," were sufficient.
                    2. Mapp v. Ohio
                      1. Background: Dollree Mapp was convicted of possessing obscene materials after an admittedly illegal police search of her home for a fugitive. She appealed her conviction on the basis of freedom of expression.
                        1. Question: Were the confiscated materials protected by the First Amendment? (May evidence obtained through a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment be admitted in a state criminal proceeding?)
                          1. Conclusion: The Court brushed aside the First Amendment issue and declared that "all evidence obtained by searches and seizures in violation of the Constitution is, by [the Fourth Amendment], inadmissible in a state court." Mapp had been convicted on the basis of illegally obtained evidence. This was an historic -- and controversial -- decision. It placed the requirement of excluding illegally obtained evidence from court at all levels of the government. The decision launched the Court on a troubled course of determining how and when to apply the exclusionary rule.
                          2. Gideon v. Wainwright
                            1. Background: Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with a felony: having broken into and entered a poolroom with the intent to commit a misdemeanor offense. When he appeared in court without a lawyer, Gideon requested that the court appoint one for him. According to Florida state law, however, an attorney may only be appointed to an indigent defendant in capital cases, so the trial court did not appoint one. Gideon represented himself in trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed a habeas corpus petition in the Florida Supreme Court and argued that the trial court's decision violated his constitutional right to be represented by counsel. The Florida Supreme Court denied habeas corpus relief.
                              1. Question: Does the Sixth Amendment's right to counsel in criminal cases extend to felony defendants in state courts?
                                1. Conclusion: Yes. Justice Hugo L. Black delivered the opinion of the 9-0 majority. The Supreme Court held that the framers of the Constitution placed a high value on the right of the accused to have the means to put up a proper defense, and the state as well as federal courts must respect that right. The Court held that it was consistent with the Constitution to require state courts to appoint attorneys for defendants who could not afford to retain counsel on their own.
                                  1. Justice William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion in which he argued that the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply a watered-down version of the Bill of Rights to the states. Since constitutional questions are always open for consideration by the Supreme Court, there is no need to assert a rule about the relationship between the Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights. In his separate opinion concurring in judgment, Justice Tom C. Clark wrote that the Constitution guarantees the right to counsel as a protection of due process, and there is no reason to apply that protection in certain cases but not others.
                                    1. Justice John M. Harlan wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he argued that the majority's decision represented an extension of earlier precedent that established the existence of a serious criminal charge to be a "special circumstance" that requires the appointment of counsel. He also argued that the majority's opinion recognized a right to be valid in state courts as well as federal ones; it did not apply a vast body of federal law to the states.
                                2. Malloy v. Hogan
                                  1. Background: William Malloy was arrested during a gambling raid in 1959 by Hartford, Connecticut police. After pleading guilty to pool selling, a misdemeanor, he was sentenced to one year in jail and fined $500, but the sentence was suspended after 90 days and Malloy was placed on two years probation. Some 16 months following his plea, a Superior Court appointed referee ordered Malloy to testify about gambling and other criminal activities in Hartford County. When Malloy refused, "on grounds it may tend to incriminate [him]" he was imprisoned for contempt and held until willing to answer questions. Malloy filed a habeas corpus petition challenging his confinement. On appeal from the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors ruling, upholding an adverse Superior Court denial, the Supreme Court granted certiorari.
                                    1. Question: Does the Fourteenth Amendment protect a state witness's Fifth Amendment guarantee again self-incrimination in a criminal proceeding?
                                      1. Conclusion: Yes. In a 5-to-4 opinion, the Court held that the Fifth Amendment's exception from compulsory self-incrimination is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgement by a state. When determining if state officers properly obtained a confession, one must focus on whether the statements were made freely and voluntarily without any direct or implied promised or improper influence. Noting that the American judicial system is accusatorial, not inquisitorial, the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment secures defendants against self-incrimination and compels state and federal officials to establish guilt by evidence that is free and independent of a suspect's or witnesses' statements.
                                      2. Miranda v. Arizona
                                        1. Background: This case represents the consolidation of four cases, in each of which the defendant confessed guilt after being subjected to a variety of interrogation techniques without being informed of his Fifth Amendment rights during an interrogation. On March 13, 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested in his house and brought to the police station where he was questioned by police officers in connection with a kidnapping and rape. After two hours of interrogation, the police obtained a written confession from Miranda. The written confession was admitted into evidence at trial despite the objection of the defense attorney and the fact that the police officers admitted that they had not advised Miranda of his right to have an attorney present during the interrogation. The jury found Miranda guilty. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed and held that Miranda’s constitutional rights were not violated because he did not specifically request council.
                                          1. Question: Do the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination extend to the police interrogation of a suspect?
                                            1. Conclusion: Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the 5-4 majority. The Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination is available in all settings. Therefore, prosecution may not use statements arising from a custodial interrogation of a suspect unless certain procedural safeguards were in place. Such safeguards include proof that the suspect was aware of his right to be silent, that any statement he makes may be used against him, that he has the right to have an attorney present, that he has the right to have an attorney appointed to him, that he may waive these rights if he does so voluntarily, and that if at any points he requests an attorney there will be no further questioning until the attorney arrives.
                                              1. The Court held that, in each of the cases, the interrogation techniques used did not technically fall into the category of coercive, but they failed to ensure that the defendant’s decision to speak with the police was entirely the product of his own free will.
                                                1. Justice Tom C. Clark wrote a dissenting opinion in which he argued that the majority’s opinion created an unnecessarily strict interpretation of the Fifth Amendment that curtails the ability of the police to effectively execute their duties. He wrote that the state should have the burden to prove that the suspect was aware of his rights during the interrogation, but that statements resulting from interrogation should not be automatically excluded if the suspect was not explicitly informed of his rights. In his separate dissenting opinion, Justice John M. Harlan wrote that the judicial precedent and legislative history surrounding the Fifth Amendment does not support the view that the Fifth Amendment prohibits all pressure on the suspect. He also argued that there was no legal precedent to support the requirement to specifically inform suspects of their rights.
                                                  1. Justices Potter Stewart and Byron R. White joined in the dissent. Justice White wrote a separate dissent in which he argued that the Fifth Amendment only protects defendants from giving self-incriminating testimony if explicitly compelled to do so. He argued that custodial interrogation was not inherently coercive and did not require such a broad interpretation of the protections of the Fifth Amendment. Such an interpretation harms the criminal process by destroying the credibility of confessions. Justices Harlan and Stewart joined in the dissenting opinion.
                                            2. Everson v. Board of Education
                                              1. Background: A New Jersey law allowed reimbursements of money to parents who sent their children to school on buses operated by the public transportation system. Children who attended Catholic schools also qualified for this transportation subsidy.
                                                1. Question: Did the New Jersey statute violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment?
                                                  1. Conclusion: No. A divided Court held that the law did not violate the Constitution. After detailing the history and importance of the Establishment Clause, Justice Black argued that services like bussing and police and fire protection for parochial schools are "separate and so indisputably marked off from the religious function" that for the state to provide them would not violate the First Amendment. The law did not pay money to parochial schools, nor did it support them directly in anyway. It was simply a law enacted as a "general program" to assist parents of all religions with getting their children to school.
                                                  2. Engel v. Vitale
                                                    1. Background: The Board of Regents for the State of New York authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day. This was an attempt to defuse the politically potent issue by taking it out of the hands of local communities. The blandest of invocations read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."
                                                      1. Question: Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment?
                                                        1. Conclusion: Yes. Neither the prayer's nondenominational character nor its voluntary character saves it from unconstitutionality. By providing the prayer, New York officially approved religion. This was the first in a series of cases in which the Court used the establishment clause to eliminate religious activities of all sorts, which had traditionally been a part of public ceremonies. Despite the passage of time, the decision is still unpopular with a majority of Americans.
                                                        2. Lemon v. Kurtzman
                                                          1. Background: This case was heard concurrently with two others, Earley v. DiCenso (1971) and Robinson v. DiCenso (1971). The cases involved controversies over laws in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. In Pennsylvania, a statute provided financial support for teacher salaries, textbooks, and instructional materials for secular subjects to non-public schools. The Rhode Island statute provided direct supplemental salary payments to teachers in non-public elementary schools. Each statute made aid available to "church-related educational institutions."
                                                            1. Question: Did the Rhode Island and Pennsylvania statutes violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by making state financial aid available to "church-related educational institutions"?
                                                              1. Conclusion: Yes. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger articulated a three-part test for laws dealing with religious establishment. To be constitutional, a statute must have "a secular legislative purpose," it must have principal effects which neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion." The Court found that the subsidization of parochial schools furthered a process of religious inculcation, and that the "continuing state surveillance" necessary to enforce the specific provisions of the laws would inevitably entangle the state in religious affairs. The Court also noted the presence of an unhealthy "divisive political potential" concerning legislation which appropriates support to religious schools.
                                                              2. Cantrell v. Connecticut
                                                                1. Background: Jesse Cantwell and his son were Jehovah's Witnesses; they were proselytizing a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in Connecticut. The Cantwells distributed religious materials by travelling door-to-door and by approaching people on the street. After voluntarily hearing an anti-Roman Catholic message on the Cantwells' portable phonograph, two pedestrians reacted angrily. The Cantwells were subsequently arrested for violating a local ordinance requiring a permit for solicitation and for inciting a breach of the peace.
                                                                  1. Question: Did the solicitation statute or the "breach of the peace" ordinance violate the Cantwells' First Amendment free speech or free exercise rights?
                                                                    1. Conclusion: Yes. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that while general regulations on solicitation were legitimate, restrictions based on religious grounds were not. Because the statute allowed local officials to determine which causes were religious and which ones were not, it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court also held that while the maintenance of public order was a valid state interest, it could not be used to justify the suppression of "free communication of views." The Cantwells' message, while offensive to many, did not entail any threat of "bodily harm" and was protected religious speech.
                                                                    2. City of Boerne v. Flores
                                                                      1. Background: The Archbishop of San Antonio sued local zoning authorities for violating his rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), by denying him a permit to expand his church in Boerne, Texas. Boerne's zoning authorities argued that the Archbishop's church was located in a historic preservation district governed by an ordinance forbidding new construction, and that the RFRA was unconstitutional insofar as it sought to override this local preservation ordinance. On appeal from the Fifth Circuit's reversal of a District Court's finding against Archbishop Flores, the Court granted Boerne's request for certiorari.
                                                                        1. Question: Did Congress exceed its Fourteenth Amendment enforcement powers by enacting the RFRA which, in part, subjected local ordinances to federal regulation?
                                                                          1. Conclusion: Yes. Under the RFRA, the government is prohibited from "substantially burden[ing]" religion's free exercise unless it must do so to further a compelling government interest, and, even then, it may only impose the least restrictive burden. The Court held that while Congress may enact such legislation as the RFRA, in an attempt to prevent the abuse of religious freedoms, it may not determine the manner in which states enforce the substance of its legislative restrictions. This, the Court added, is precisely what the RFRA does by overly restricting the states' freedom to enforce its spirit in a manner which they deem most appropriate. With respect to this case, specifically, there was no evidence to suggest that Boerne's historic preservation ordinance favored one religion over another, or that it was based on animus or hostility for free religious exercise.
                                                                          2. Schenck v. United States
                                                                            1. Background: During World War I, Schenck mailed circulars to draftees. The circulars suggested that the draft was a monstrous wrong motivated by the capitalist system. The circulars urged "Do not submit to intimidation" but advised only peaceful action such as petitioning to repeal the Conscription Act. Schenck was charged with conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act by attempting to cause insubordination in the military and to obstruct recruitment.
                                                                              1. Question: Are Schenck's actions (words, expression) protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
                                                                                1. Conclusion: Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, concluded that Schenck is not protected in this situation. The character of every act depends on the circumstances. "The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." During wartime, utterances tolerable in peacetime can be punished.
                                                                                2. New York Times Co. v. United States
                                                                                  1. Background: In what became known as the "Pentagon Papers Case," the Nixon Administration attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified Defense Department study regarding the history of United States activities in Vietnam. The President argued that prior restraint was necessary to protect national security. This case was decided together with United States v. Washington Post Co.
                                                                                    1. Question: Did the Nixon administration's efforts to prevent the publication of what it termed "classified information" violate the First Amendment?
                                                                                      1. Conclusion: Yes. In its per curiam opinion the Court held that the government did not overcome the "heavy presumption against" prior restraint of the press in this case. Justices Black and Douglas argued that the vague word "security" should not be used "to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment." Justice Brennan reasoned that since publication would not cause an inevitable, direct, and immediate event imperiling the safety of American forces, prior restraint was unjustified.
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