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Profile: US Supreme Court

US Supreme Court was a participant or observer in the following events:

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The US Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sandford that African-Americans are not citizens regardless of their status as free or slave, and therefore cannot sue for redress in federal courts. The Court also rules that Congress has no power to ban slavery in US territories, and that the rights of slaveowners are protected by the Fifth Amendment because slaves are categorized as property. The origins of the case date to 1833 when Army surgeon Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott, a slave, and moved him to a military base in Wisconsin. Slavery was banned in territories made free by the Missouri Compromise, and Wisconsin was one of these territories. However, Scott did not assert his freedom at that time. Instead, he lived in Wisconsin for four years, sometimes hiring himself out for work. In 1840, Scott moved with his family to Louisiana and then to St. Louis, Missouri, with Emerson. After Emerson died, Scott attempted to buy his family’s freedom from Emerson’s wife Eliza Irene Sanford, but was refused. (Sanford’s name was misspelled ‘Sandford’ in court documents.) Scott then sued Sanford in a state court, arguing that he and his family were free because they lived in a territory where slavery was illegal, and that he was owed back wages. A state court found in Scott’s favor in 1850, but Sanford’s brother John appealed the decision. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the original decision. Scott, alleging physical abuse, then sued John Sanford for damages in a federal court, but a jury disallowed Scott’s right to file a case in federal court. Scott appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court finds that it lacks jurisdiction to take the case because Scott is not a US citizen. Taney writes that Scott is “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves,” and, therefore, he is not a “member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution.” Taney also dismisses Scott’s assertion that his residence in a free state automatically grants him freedom and status as a US citizen, reasoning that states may choose to recognize the rights of freed slaves as citizens, but the federal government is under no obligation to do so. Lastly, the Court finds that, because slaves are property, Congress’s ban on slavery in the territories violates the Fifth Amendment’s protection of property rights. Justice Benjamin Curtis issues a powerful dissent to the Taney opinion. The Court’s decision will exacerbate tensions between Northern and Southern states, being widely seen as validating the South’s view of national power. It will also embolden pro-slavery Southerners and others to try to extend slavery into other areas of the nation, and will infuriate abolitionists, who will become powerful voices within the newly formed Republican Party. The three “Reconstruction Amendments”—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth (see February 26, 1869)—will render the Scott decision invalid. In modern times, all people born or naturalized in the US will be considered citizens who have the right to bring suit in federal court. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Republican Party, Benjamin Curtis, Dred Scott, Eliza Irene Sanford, John Emerson, US Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, Missouri Supreme Court, John Sanford

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment, one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments,” is ratified. This amendment makes all persons born or naturalized in the US citizens. It also overturns the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which denied African-Americans, slave or free, the right to citizenship (see March 6, 1857). The amendment also places restrictions on state laws: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It grants the US Congress the power to enforce, through legislation, the provisions of the amendment. Beginning in the 1920s, the Supreme Court will begin applying the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the provisions of the Bill of Rights in states as well as in matters concerning the federal government. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court uses the “Slaughterhouse Cases” to narrowly interpret the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868). The combined cases have nothing to do with the rights of freed African-Americans, but center on disputes brought to court by white businessmen. The Court rules 5-4 that distinctions exist between federal and state citizenship rights, and that states have no obligation to provide their citizens with the same “privileges and immunities” they enjoy as national citizens. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court strikes down the provision of an 1875 civil rights law that prohibited racial discrimination by owners of hotels, theaters, and other forms of public accommodation. The Court consolidates a number of cases from four states into the “Civil Rights Cases,” and rules that the Fourteenth Amendment (see July 9, 1868) does not give the federal government the power to ban private discrimination. Further, the court rules that the denial of public accommodation does not constitute a “badge of slavery” and is therefore not prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the US. [PBS, 12/2006; U.S. Supreme Court, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In Elk v. Wilkins, the US Supreme Court restricts Native American voting rights by denying Native American John Elk the right to vote. According to the Court, Elk cannot vote in his home state of Nebraska because his intention to become a citizen requires approval from the government. Additionally, the Court finds that Elk is not a citizen because he does not “owe allegiance to the United States,” and thusly the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) does not apply to him. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Elk

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules that American courts are not interested in the manner in which a defendant comes to stand before them. The ruling is issued in the case of Ker v. Illinois, which concerns the rendition from Lima, Peru, of a suspect named Frederick Ker, wanted for larceny in Cook County, Illinois. Ker was seized by a federal agent who bypassed the extradition procedure and placed him on a series of ships that transported him home to face trial. Ker is convicted and the doctrine this case gives rise to—known as the Ker doctrine for a time—will go on to underlie the US’s rendition program at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. [Grey, 2007, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Frederick Ker

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Justice Henry Brown.Justice Henry Brown. [Source: Wikimedia]The US Supreme Court rules 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana law requiring “equal but separate accomodations for the white and colored races” is constitutional. Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man who sometimes “passed” as white, took part in a plan by a small number of black professionals seeking to have a court overturn the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890. Plessy boarded a whites-only railroad car and was arrested, as per arrangement, by a private detective. The group intended to use Plessy’s light skin tone to demonstrate how arbitrary and unconstitutional the law was. Plessy’s lawyers argued that Louisiana’s segregation law violated both the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law (see July 9, 1868). Louisiana courts consistently found against Plessy, and the case moved all the way to the Supreme Court. Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Henry Brown rules that the law does not “discriminate” among legal rights by race, but merely recognizes a “distinction” between races “which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color.” He adds: “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based on physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the differences of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.” The ruling establishes the “separate but equal” doctrine that informs many states’ decision to segregate public facilities—schools, railcars, even drinking fountains. Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner and a pro-slavery politician, writes a fiery dissent that refutes Brown’s assertion that the Louisiana law discriminates equally among whites and blacks. Harlan writes, “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons.” He disagrees with the majority opinion’s finding that segregation on railcars does not violate African-Americans’ constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. But Harlan does not advocate social equality among the races. Instead, he argues that legally imposed segregation denies political equality. Harlan writes: “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Harlan’s dissent becomes the underpinning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision (see May 17, 1954). [PBS, 12/2006; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: Homer Plessy, Henry Billings Brown, US Supreme Court, Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, John Marshall Harlan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court upholds a Mississippi law requiring citizens to pass a literacy test before being allowed to vote. The Williams v. Mississippi decision holds that such tests do not violate the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869) as long as they are applied equally to all prospective voters. The literacy test stemmed from a state “Constitutional convention” that codified a “compromise” between white slaveowners and those who opposed their iron control of the Mississippi state government. The compromise would declare all illiterate Mississippi citizens as ineligible to vote, but the real purpose of the convention—to disenfranchise blacks—was well known. James Kimble Vardaman, who would later become governor, said of the convention: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter. Mississippi’s constitutional convention was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n_gger from politics; not the ignorant—but the n_gger.” White Republican Marsh Cook challenged the Democrats for a seat to the convention and was murdered in response. The only African-American delegate to the convention, Isaiah Montgomery, was invited because of his willingness to support disenfranchisement. The convention established the literacy test, establishing as a proper test the reading of any selected section of the Mississippi Constitution, or giving a valid explanation of it once it was read to the voter. Registrars would interpret the success or failure of the voters’ attempts to pass the test. Since all Mississippi registrars are white, the likelihood that even a literate African-American would pass the test was slim at best. However, the Court ignores the intent of the law to disenfranchise blacks, writing: “[T]he operation of the constitution and laws is not limited by their language or effects to one race. They reach weak and vicious white men as well as weak and vicious black men, and whatever is sinister in their intention, if anything, can be prevented by both races by the exertion of that duty which voluntarily pays taxes and refrains from crime.” Other states, mainly Southern, will quickly adopt their own version of literacy tests. [PBS, 2002; PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: James Kimble Vardaman, Marsh Cook, US Supreme Court, Isaiah Montgomery

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court overrules Oklahoma’s “grandfather clause” law in the case of Guinn v. United States, finding the law unconstitutional. The Oklahoma law is similar to laws passed in Louisiana and other states (see 1896) in order to ensure that African-Americans cannot legally vote regardless of the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869). Illiterate males can vote only if they can prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Since almost all African-Americans were slaves during that time, it is impossible for almost all African-Americans to prove their grandfathers had the right to vote. Illiterate white men, however, can often prove their grandfathers could vote. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

1921: Supreme Court Weakens Campaign Finance Laws

In US v. Newberry, the Supreme Court finds some amendments to campaign finance laws (see 1911) unconstitutional, weakening the body of campaign finance law even further. The campaign finance laws in force (see 1907 and June 25, 1910) were already ineffective and rarely enforced by state attorneys general. And corporations and other special interests find it quite simple to circumvent the laws via loopholes. The case involves a Northern Republican primary race for the US Senate. Popular and powerful businessman Henry Ford (R-MI) lost the race due to enormous campaign expenditures and advertising by his opponent, and asked the US attorney general to intervene. The case stemming from Ford’s request results in the Court decision. The Court finds that the amendments are invalid because neither political parties nor election primaries are mentioned in the Constitution. The Founders had not considered having a two- or three-party system in place, and had envisioned the US as being governed by a single party that represented all interests. A two-party system did not emerge in American politics on a national scale until 1828. The Court, by maintaining a strict constitutional interpretation, sorely weakens campaign finance regulation. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Henry Ford

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Takao Ozawa v. United States, finds that persons of Japanese ancestry are prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens under a law limiting eligibility to “free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” According to the Court, Takao Ozawa is “a graduate of the Berkeley, California, High School, had been nearly three years a student in the University of California, had educated his children in American schools, his family had attended American churches, and he had maintained the use of the English language in his home. That he was well qualified by character and education for citizenship is conceded.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Takao Ozawa, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules that “high caste Hindus” from India are not eligible to become US citizens because, under naturalization law, persons of Hindu ancestry are not “white.” Bhagat Singh Thind came to the United States in 1913, served in the US Army, and was granted permission to become a citizen by an Oregon official. However, a naturalization examiner objected and took the case to court. In Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States, the Court finds that Thind may not be naturalized because of his Hindu ancestry. Thind presented evidence that South Asians such as himself are scientifically classified as Aryans or Caucasians, and thusly should be classified as “white.” The Court rules that scientific evidence is secondary to the public perception of who is white and who is not. “It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity,” the Court finds, “but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today.” In essence, the Court contradicts its findings from a ruling three months ago, where it accepted scientific proof that a Japanese man applying for American citizenship could not be classified as “white.” In 2003, documentarians for California Newsreel will write: “The justices never said what whiteness was, only what it wasn’t. Their implied logic was a circular one: Whiteness was what the common white man said it was.” Many South Asians who had been naturalized will be stripped of their citizenship and property as a result of the ruling. One, successful businessman Vaishno das Bagai, kills himself. He leaves a suicide note for his family and another one for the public that reads in part: “But now they come and say to me I am no longer an American citizen. What have I made of myself and my children? We cannot exercise our rights, we cannot leave this country. Humility and insults… blockades this way, and bridges burned behind.” The Court will later reverse itself and rule in Thind’s favor. [California Newsreel, 2003; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind - 261 US 204, 2011; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: California Newsreel, Bhagat Singh Thind, US Supreme Court, Vaishno das Bagai

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court reverses the conviction of the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black men from Scottsboro, Alabama, who had been convicted of raping a group of white women and sentenced to death. In the case of Powell v. Alabama, the Court finds that the men had been granted inadequate representation—they had been given a court-appointed lawyer only on the morning of their trial, and thusly that lawyer had no time to prepare an adequate defense. The case is sent back to the Alabama state court, where despite testimony from one of the alleged victims that no rape had taken place, all are convicted again. The Supreme Court will again overturn their convictions, this time because no blacks were on the jury. The nine are tried for a third time: four are convicted, one pleads guilty, and four have charges against them dropped. [PBS, 12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules in United States v. Curtiss-Wright, a case revolving around Curtiss-Wright’s illicit sale of machine guns to Bolivia in violation of a joint resolution passed by Congress. The Court finds that Congress did not cede undue powers to the president in the resolution, and that the president has a wide array of powers in the area of foreign policy making that he does not have in the domestic arena. Justice George Sutherland, who writes the majority opinion, notes the distinctions between foreign and internal affairs, arguing that because “the president alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation,” Congress may provide the president with a special degree of discretion in external matters which would not be afforded domestically. In an aside to the decision, Sutherland notes what he calls the “plenary and exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations,” a power which, if correctly cited, gives the executive branch sole authority to conduct foreign relations in everything from treaties and trade agreements to launching and conducting wars. However, Sutherland’s statement is written as an adjunct to the majority opinion, or dicta, and therefore has no legal stature. In later examinations of Sutherland’s work, many legal scholars will determine that Sutherland is misquoting his original source, the Supreme Court’s first Chief Justice, John Marshall, who as a House member argued that the president has the duty to carry out the nation’s treaty obligations and is the exclusive channel for diplomatic communications. Marshall did not argue that the legislative or judicial branches had no authority over foreign policy, and never espoused that argument once ascending to the high court. Many advocates of the so-called “unitary executive theory” of presidential power will cite Sutherland’s erroneous dicta in making their own arguments for untrammeled presidential power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 141; Oyez (.org), 6/2007]

Entity Tags: George Sutherland, Curtiss-Wright, John Marshall, Roosevelt administration, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, ruling in Breedlove v. Settles, finds a poll tax implemented in Georgia law to be constitutional. The Court decision effectively abrogates the right of most African-Americans in Georgia to vote, as most of them cannot pay the poll tax. The Court ruling serves to disenfranchise many African-Americans for decades. Some Southern states will employ poll taxes well into the 1960s. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Roosevelt, using what he calls his inherent power as commander in chief, creates a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US in the case of Ex parte Quirin. The eight are quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later backs Roosevelt’s authority to have them tried by a commission. The Court’s decision is unusually hasty, and several of the justices who voted in Roosevelt’s favor later express regret for their approval. Roosevelt himself is unsure of the procedure’s legality, the Court’s decision and his own powers as president notwithstanding. When more Nazi saboteurs are captured later in the war, they are tried in criminal courts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court upholds by a 6-3 vote the legitimacy of Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that mandated all Americans of Japanese heritage to report to internment camps during World War II. Writing for the Court in the case of Korematsu v. United States, Justice Hugo Black finds that an executive order based on race is “suspect,” but says that the “emergency circumstances” of wartime make the order necessary and constitutional. Forty-four years later, in 1988, Congress will formally apologize and issue monetary reparations to Japanese-American families who had been forced into the camps. [PBS, 12/2006; Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011] In 2011, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will state that his predecessor during the case, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid evidence from the Court that concluded Japanese-Americans posed no security or military threat. The report from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found that no evidence of Japanese-American disloyalty existed, and that no Japanese-Americans had acted as spies or had signaled enemy submarines, as some at the time believed. Katyal will say that he has a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the Court.” Katyal will say that two government lawyers informed Fahy he was engaging in “suppression of evidence,” but Fahy refused to give the report to the Court. Instead, Fahy told the Court that the forced internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity.” Fahy’s arguments swayed the Court’s opinion, Katyal will state. “It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal will say. [Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Neal Katyal, Office of Naval Intelligence, US Supreme Court, Charles Fahy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hugo Black

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court stops political parties in Texas from discriminating based on race. In the case of Smith v. Allwright, the Court rules that the Texas Democratic Party may not prohibit African-Americans from membership and from participating in primary elections. The Court bases its ruling on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), and overturns its decision in the 1935 Grovey v. Townsend case. [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Texas Democratic Party

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A three-judge federal appeals court unanimously rejects the government’s claim of unfettered executive privilege and secrecy in regards to classified documents (see October 19, 1951). In an opinion written by Judge Albert Maris, the court finds that the government’s claim that the judiciary can never compel the executive branch to turn over classified documents to be without legal merit. The plaintiffs in the case, three widows who lost their husbands in the crash of a B-29 bomber carrying classified materials (see June 21, 1949), had a compelling need for the documents in question, the downed B-29 accident reports, to further their case, Maris writes (see October 12, 1950).
No Legal Basis for Claim of Privilege - Maris goes further than the parameters of the single lawsuit, writing: “[W]e regard the recognition of such a sweeping privilege… as contrary to a sound public policy. The present cases themselves indicate the breadth of the claim of immunity from disclosure which one government department head has already made. It is but a small step to assert a privilege against any disclosure of records merely because they might prove embarrassing to government officials. Indeed, it requires no great flight of imagination to realize that if the government’s contentions in these cases were affirmed, the privilege against disclosure might gradually be enlarged… until as is the case in some nations today, it embraced the whole range of government activities.… We need to recall in this connection the words of [Revolution-era jurist] Edward Livingston: ‘No nation ever yet found any inconvenience from too close an inspection into the conduct of its officers, but many have been brought to ruin, and reduced to slavery, by suffering gradual imposition and abuses, which were imperceptible, only because the means of publicity had not been secured.’” He also quotes Revolutionary War figure Patrick Henry, who said, “[T]o cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man and every friend to his country.”
Rejecting Claim of 'State Secrets' - Maris is even less respectful of the government’s claim of a “state secrets” privilege. He notes that the government did not make that claim until well into the lawsuit proceedings (see October 19, 1951), indicating that it was a “fallback” argument used after the original government arguments had failed. Maris is also troubled, as author Barry Siegel later writes, in the government’s “assertion of unilateral executive power, free from judicial review, to decide what qualified as secret.” The lower court judge’s ruling that he alone should be given the documents for review adequately protected the government’s security interests, Maris writes: “[But] the government contends that it is within the sole province of the secretary of the Air Force to determine whether any privileged material is contained in the documents and that his determination of this question must be accepted by the district court without any independent consideration.… We cannot accede to this proposition. On the contrary, we are satisfied that a claim of privilege against disclosing evidence… involves a justiciable question, traditionally within the competence of the courts.… To hold that the head of an executive department of the government in a [law]suit to which the United States is a party may conclusively determine the government’s claim of privilege is to abdicate the judicial function to infringe the independent province of the judiciary as laid down by the Constitution.”
Fundamental Principle of Checks and Balances - Maris continues: “The government of the United States is one of checks and balances. One of the principal checks is furnished by the independent judiciary which the Constitution established. Neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the government may constitutionally encroach upon the field which the Constitution has reserved for the judiciary.… Nor is there any danger to the public interest in submitting the question of privilege to the decision of the courts. The judges of the United States are public officers whose responsibilities under the Constitution is just as great as that of the heads of the executive departments.”
Government Appeal - The Justice Department will appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court (see March 1952 and March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 153-156]

Entity Tags: Albert Maris, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court reaffirms the Ker doctrine (see December 6, 1886), which underlies rendition. The court rules on the case of Shirley Collins, who had been convicted of murder in Michigan. Prior to the trial, Collins had lived in Chicago, Illinois. Officers from Michigan came and “forcibly seized, handcuffed, blackjacked, and took him to Michigan.” After being convicted, Collins appealed to the Supreme Court, citing the federal Kidnapping Act and arguing his conviction should be quashed due to the abduction. However the Supreme Court finds that there is “nothing in the Constitution that requires a court to permit a guilty person rightfully convicted to escape justice because he was brought to trial against his will.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Shirley Collins, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Justice Department appeals the ruling of the US Appeals Court in the B-29 “Banshee” case (see December 11, 1951). The appellate judges found that the executive branch of government could not unilaterally refuse to hand over classified documents requested during the course of a trial, and justify its decision merely by its own say-so (see October 12, 1950). Solicitor General Philip Perlman argues that the appellate ruling erroneously interprets the law “so as to permit encroachments by the judiciary on an area committed by the Constitution to executive discretion.” The claim of “state secrets,” “executive privilege,” and, ultimately, “national security” must trump judicial concerns, Perlman argues, and he goes on to say that the judiciary should not be allowed to “substitute its judgment for the judgment of the executive.” The case will be labeled United States of America v. Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, and Elizabeth Palya, and will usually be shortened to the more colloquial US v. Reynolds.
The Vinson Court - In 2008, author Barry Siegel, in his book Claim of Privilege, will note that the recent ascension of Fred Vinson as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice does not bode well for the plaintiffs in the case. President Truman placed Vinson, whom Siegel calls Truman’s “poker and drinking buddy,” as Chief Justice to try to achieve consensus between the two contentious blocs of justices on the Court. Siegel notes that Vinson is widely considered an intellectual and legal lightweight, with a tendency to take the side of the government on issues in which he lacks a full understanding. Siegel will write that in many instances, Vinson functions “as part of the executive branch.”
'Dennis' Case Preview of Court's Tendency to Favor Executive Branch - Vinson had written the opinion in a 1951 ruling, Dennis et al v. United States, where the Court had upheld a lower court ruling that twelve acknowledged American Communists were sent to jail under the Smith Act—not for breaking the law, but for “teaching and advocating,” in the words of the original indictment. Siegel will call that ruling “the nadir of the Vinson Court.” According to Siegel, the Dennis ruling showed the Court’s predisposition to give the government, and particularly the executive branch, plenty of leeway in its findings in subsequent cases such as Reynolds. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 157-162]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, Elizabeth Palya, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Barry Siegel, Harry S. Truman, Phyllis Brauner, Philip Perlman, Patricia Reynolds

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules that the federal government cannot seize the nation’s steel mills. In April, President Truman, fearing a nationwide strike that could impact the US war effort in Korea, ordered the seizure of all US steel mills; the lawsuit that resulted, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, quickly made its way to the Supreme Court.
Rejection of 'Inherent Powers' Claim - During oral arguments, the justices grilled Acting Attorney General Philip Perlman, demanding to know what statutes he had relied on for his arguments and asserting that the president had limitations both on his emergency wartime powers and on his ability to claim that he is the “sole judge” of the existence of, and remedies for, an emergency. The justices are not convinced by the government’s arguments for the president’s “inherent powers.” They are also troubled by repeated refusals of the government to provide facts and documentary backing for its legal arguments, and its reliance instead on claims of “national security.” The attorney for the steel industry, John Davis, quoted Thomas Jefferson in his argument: “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Justice William O. Douglas noted that if the government’s claims were valid, there would be “no more need for Congress.”
Court Rejects Argument - In a 6-3 vote, the Court rules that the president has no inherent power to seize the steel mills. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black states: “In the framework of our Constitution, the president’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.… The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.… This is a job for the nation’s lawmakers.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert Jackson writes, “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.” In his dissent, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (see March 1952) argues that “the gravity of the emergency” overrides the Constitutional arguments accepted by the majority of the Court. “Those who suggest that this is a case involving extraordinary powers should be mindful that these are extraordinary times. A world not yet recovered from the devastation of World War II has been forced to face the threat of another and more terrifying global conflict.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 123; Siegel, 2008, pp. 163-164] In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will observe that the Youngstown decision “turned out to be only a pause in the movement toward an increasingly authoritarian presidency.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, John Davis, Hugo Black, Charlie Savage, Fred Vinson, Harry S. Truman, Philip Perlman, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers make their opening arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of US v Reynolds, the lawsuit that finds the government had no overarching right to unilaterally refuse to deliver classified documents in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see December 11, 1951). The government has appealed the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court (see March 1952). Because four of the nine justices had voted not to hear the case—in essence to let the appellate court ruling stand—the defense is cautiously optimistic about the Court’s decision.
Judiciary Has No Right to Interfere with Powers of the Executive, Government Argues - Acting Solicitor General Robert Stern tells the Court that the appellate judges’ decision, written by Judge Albert Maris, “is an unwarranted interference with the powers of the executive,” and that the decision forced the government to choose “whether to disclose public documents contrary to the public interest [or] to suffer the public treasury to be penalized” (a reference to the decision to award the plaintiffs monetary damages—see October 12, 1950). The judiciary “lack[s] power to compel disclosure by means of a direct demand [as well as] by the indirect method of an order against the United States, resulting in judgment when compliance is not forthcoming.”
Executive Has No Right to Unilaterally Withhold Information, Defense Counters - Stern’s arguments are countered by those of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, who writes, “We could rest our case with confidence on the clear opinion of Judge Maris,” but continues by arguing that if the government asserts a claim of executive privilege on the basis of national security, it must make the documents available to the Court for adjudication, or at least provide enough information for the Court to judge whether the documents present in fact a threat to national security if disclosed. This is particularly true, Biddle argues, “where there is no showing that the documents in question contain any military secret” (Biddle is unaware that the documents’ classification status had been reduced two years before—see September 14, 1950). “The basic question here is whether those in charge of the various departments of the government may refuse to produce documents properly demanded… in a case where the government is a party (see June 21, 1949), simply because the officials themselves think it would be better to keep them secret, and this without the Courts having any power to question the propriety of such decision.… In other words, say the officials, we will tell you only what we think it is in the public interest that you should know. And furthermore, we may withhold information not only about military or diplomatic secrets, but we may also suppress documents which concern merely the operation of the particular department if we believe it would be best, for purposes of efficiency or morale, that no one outside of the department, not even the Court, should see them.”
No Basis for Claims of Military Secrets - Biddle argues that because of responses he has received to his demands over the course of this lawsuit, he is relatively sure there are no military secrets contained within them. “[T]he proof is to the contrary,” he says, and goes on to say that had the Air Force disclosed from the outset that the plane crash, the fatal accident that sparked the original lawsuit (see October 6, 1948), was probably caused by pilot error and not by random chance, the plaintiffs may have never needed to ask for the disclosure of the documents in question, the accident reports on the crash (see October 18, 1948). “The secretary [of the Air Force]‘s formal claim of privilege said that the plane at the time was engaged in a secret mission and that it carried confidential equipment,” Biddle says, “but nowhere was it asserted that either had anything to do with the accident. The whole purpose of the demand by the respondents was for the purpose of finding out what caused the accident.… They were not in the least interested in the secret mission or equipment.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 165-170]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Albert Maris, Robert Stern, US Department of the Air Force, Charles Biddle

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In their regular Saturday conference, the nine Supreme Court justices discuss the issues and arguments surrounding US v Reynolds (see October 21, 1952). According to the notes from the discussion, Chief Justice Fred Vinson, a strong advocate for expansive executive powers (see March 1952), says the case “boils down to Executive Branch determine privilege.” Other notes by Justice William O. Douglas suggest that Vinson isn’t convinced that the US must “be forced to pay for exercising its privilege” (see October 12, 1950). A straw vote taken at the end of the discussion shows five justices in favor of the government’s position to unilaterally withhold classified documents—overturning the appellate court decision (see December 11, 1951), and four in favor of allowing the decision to stand. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: Fred Vinson, US Supreme Court, William O. Douglas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom.One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress]The landmark US Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The unanimous decision overturns the doctrine of “separate but equal” education codified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (see 1896). The case was argued by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The organizations filed the suit as a challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine, and combined five separate cases under the one Brown v. Board of Education rubric. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case three different times in three years. In a unanimous decision, the Court finds that the “separate but equal” doctrine violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and orders desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” Chief Justice Earl Warren wants to send a powerful signal to the nation in the ruling, and works to craft a unanimous decision with no dissents or even concurrences. He writes the Court’s opinion himself, but seeks the input of the other justices in two draft opinions that he tailors into his final opinion. One of the compromises he is forced to make is to put off the question of actually implementing desegregation until a later time, inadvertently allowing many states to keep segregationist practices in place for decades. Warren says the opinion should be “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Justice William O. Douglas is delighted by Warren’s opinion, and in a note to Warren, writes: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.” Justice Harold H. Burton writes a memo to Warren reading in part: “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court.… I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.… To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.” In an internal memo, Justice Felix Frankfurter writes of the practice of segregation: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those states where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.” Frankfurter says the ruling makes for “a day of glory.” Some right-wing and segregationist organizations condemn the ruling; Warren is forwarded a letter from an official of the Sons of the American Revolution claiming the ruling is attributable to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and that the NAACP is financed by “a Communist front.” President Eisenhower will take strong action to reduce segregation in America, but refuses to endorse the Court’s ruling. In 1967, one of the NAACP’s lead attorneys in the case, Thurgood Marshall, will go on to serve on the Supreme Court. [Library of Congress, 1994; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Earl Warren, Dwight Eisenhower, Felix Frankfurter, Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall, Harold H. Burton, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, Sons of the American Revolution

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the case of United States v. Auto Workers, the Supreme Court reverses a lower court’s dismissal of an indictment against a labor union accused of violating federal laws prohibiting corporations and labor unions from making contributions or expenditures in federal elections (see June 23, 1947). Justice Felix Frankfurter writes the majority opinion; Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black dissent. In a 5-3 decision, the Court finds the International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America liable for its practice of using union dues to sponsor television commercials relating to the 1954 Congressional elections. [UNITED STATES v. AUTO. WORKERS, 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Law professor Allison R. Hayward will later write that in her opinion the Court finding created “a fable of campaign finance reform… dictated by political opportunism. Politicians used reform to exploit public sentiment and reduce rivals’ access to financial resources.… [J]udges should closely examine campaign finance regulation and look for the improper use of legislation for political gain instead of simply deferring to Congress. Undue deference to the Auto Workers fable of reform could lead to punishment for the exercise of political rights. Correcting the history is thus essential to restoring proper checks on campaign finance legislation.” Hayward will argue that Frankfurter used a timeline of Congressional efforts to curb and reform campaign finance practices as an excuse to allow powerful political interests to exert restrictions on political opponents with less access to large election finance contributions. The case is used uncritically, and sometimes unfairly, to influence later campaign reform efforts, Hayward will argue. [Hayward, 6/17/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Earl Warren, Allison R. Hayward, Felix Frankfurter, International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections that literacy tests for voting in North Carolina are constitutional. The case was brought by an African-American voter who argued that his right to vote was being unconstitutionally constrained. The Court rules that because the literacy test applies to all voters, it is legal (see April 25, 1898). The American Civil Liberties Union will call the ruling “a major setback to voting rights.” [PBS, 12/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court, in the case of Baker v. Carr, finds that courts can order state legislatures to redraw district boundaries to ensure citizens’ political rights. The case pertains directly to Tennessee, which still uses 60-year-old district boundaries that give minorities less representation than would be the case if districts were redrawn to more equally represent populations. Hence, Tennessee has an outsized white majority in its state legislature. The Court rules that courts can order such districts to be redrawn. The ruling is a major advancement for minority voting rights. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Gray v. Sanders, rules that Georgia’s “county unit” system of voting is unconstitutional, and codifies the concept of “one person, one vote.” Georgia’s “county unit” voting system is unfairly weighed to maximize votes from largely white rural areas and to dilute votes from urban districts with larger minority populations. Georgia voter James Sanders brought a suit challenging the system; his suit named James H. Gray, the chairman of the State Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, as one of the defendants. The Court agreed to hear this case though it had refused to hear previous challenges to the “county unit” system in the past. The Court rules 8-1 that the system violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants equal protection under the law. In the majority opinion, Justice William O. Douglas writes, “The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing—one person, one vote.” The lone dissenter, Justice John Marshall Harlan II, says the case should be sent back to lower courts for retrial. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, James H. Gray, James Sanders, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court applies the concept of “one person, one vote” (see March 18, 1963) to legislative bodies. The Court, ruling in Reynolds v. Sims, forces Alabama to redraw legislative boundaries that had remained unchanged since 1900 (see March 26, 1962). The Court rules that “the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights,” finding that Alabama’s legislative boundaries unfairly underrepresented minority voters. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco.Deputy Cecil Price and Sheriff Lawrence Rainey lounge in the courtroom during a hearing on charges brought against them in the murders of three civil rights workers. Rainey is chewing tobacco. [Source: University of Missouri-Kansas City]A federal grand jury in Jackson, Mississippi, indicts 19 Ku Klux Klan members and others for the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The indictments mark the first time in Mississippi history that white men have faced serious charges for committing race-related crimes. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price will be sentenced to six years in jail. KKK leader Sam Bowers and KKK member Wayne Roberts will receive 10 years apiece. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] Investigators conclude that Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, instigated the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Klan members had attempted to kidnap Schwerner on June 16, 1964, but when they were unable to find him, instead set fire to a black church and systematically beat a group of black churchgoers. Schwerner, along with Chaney and Goodman, were in Ohio at the time and returned to Mississippi after hearing of the incident. Both Price and his superior, Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, are members of the KKK, and have a reputation for being “tough” on blacks, and officials of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the organization that sponsors the three civil rights workers, were worried about their safety. On June 21, while asking about the fire and the beatings, the three workers were notified that a group of white men was looking for them. They were arrested by Price while driving to the CORE offices in Meridian, allegedly on suspicion of being involved in the church arson, and taken to the Neshoba County jail. Price met with KKK recruiter (kleagle) Edgar Ray Killen to discuss what to do with the three. Price and the other police officers pretended to release the three, and let them drive away, but Price followed them in his police cruiser. Price pulled the car carrying the three over, placed them in his police cruiser, and drove them down a lonely dirt road, followed by at least a dozen Klan members. The three were beaten by the various Klan members, then shot to death by Klan member Wayne Roberts. The bodies were taken to a dam site at a nearby farm and buried under tons of dirt by earthmoving equipment. It is almost certain that Price informed Rainey of the murders and the burials upon returning to his office. Justice Department and FBI agents began investigating the disappearance of the three workers (giving the case the name “Mississippi Burning,” or MIBURN), and soon found the burned-out hulk of the station wagon driven by Chaney during the three’s final moments. Federal agents found it difficult to find witnesses willing to talk, but FBI agent John Proctor found that children were often knowledgeable and willing to speak in return for candy. A $30,000 reward offering led agents to the buried bodies. Informants from within the Klan itself finally broke open the case, particularly John Jordan, a Meridian speakeasy owner who cooperated with agents rather than face a long prison term. In December 1964, 19 men, including Price, Bowers, Roberts, and Killen, were arrested and charged under Mississippi law. Initially, a US commissioner threw out all of the charges against the 19, claiming that no evidence linked them to the crimes, but the 19 will be charged under federal laws instead. Segregationist Judge William Harold Cox will again dismiss the charges against all but Rainey and Price, but the US Supreme Court will reinstate the charges in February 1966. Cox will impose the extraordinarily lenient sentences, and will later say, “They killed one n_gger, one Jew, and a white man—I gave them all what I thought they deserved.” Price will only serve four years of his sentence before rejoining his family in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1999, Mississippi will reopen the investigation, and in 2005 will reindict Killen, who escaped conviction in the first trial because of the jury’s refusal to “convict a preacher.” Killen will be sentenced to 60 years in jail on three counts of manslaughter. [Douglas O. Linder, 2005]

Entity Tags: Sam Bowers, US Department of Justice, William Harold Cox, Wayne Roberts, US Supreme Court, Michael Schwerner, Ku Klux Klan, John Proctor, Lawrence Rainey, Congress of Racial Equality, Andrew Goodman, Edgar Ray Killen, James E. Chaney, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Jordan, Cecil Price

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Based on the Fifteenth Amendment (see February 26, 1869), the VRA is a potent set of statutes that permanently bars direct barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities. It bans any election practice that denies the right to vote due to race, and requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval of changes in their election laws before they can take effect. The VRA forbids literacy tests (see 1896, April 25, 1898, and June 8, 1959) and other barriers to registration that have worked to stop minority voters from exercising their rights (see 1888, June 21, 1915, and February 4, 1964). Sections 2 and 5 of the VRA work together to prohibit states from establishing voting qualifications or standards that interfere with a citizen’s right to vote on a racial basis. Section 5 requires states with a history of racial discrimination to obtain “preclearance” from the Justice Department before altering any laws pertaining to voting—this includes changing electoral districts, voter qualification rules, and even changes in government structure such as making a formerly elective office appointive. If the changes can be seen as possibly “diluting” minority voting strength, they can be disallowed. States wishing to challenge the VRA restrictions have the opportunity to have their cases heard in federal court. Section 2 has similar, if less restrictive, provisions that apply nationally. Section 10 of the VRA takes direct aim at the Breedlove ruling from the Supreme Court (see December 6, 1937), which had legitimized poll taxes used to disenfranchise minority voters. That portion of the VRA finds that poll taxes “impose… unreasonable financial hardship” and “precludes persons of limited means from voting.” The VRA also forbids the use of literacy tests, good character tests, and other such tests used in the past to suppress minority voting. The law urges the attorney general to urge the Court to overrule Breedlove; minutes after Johnson signs the bill into law, he directs the attorney general “to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax.” The Court will find poll taxes unconstitutional in its Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ruling (see March 24, 1966). The US Department of Justice and the federal courts now have the power to monitor problem jurisdictions and assist private citizens in seeking redress through the courts if their voting rights are infringed. Months later, the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the VRA. [eNotes, 2004; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Yale Law School, 2/8/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, finds Virginia’s law upholding “poll taxes” to be unconstitutional. The 7-2 decision finds that poll taxes—fees demanded of voters, which have been used for over a century to disenfranchise minority voters (see February 4, 1964 and December 6, 1937)—violate the Constitution by imposing discriminatory restrictions on voting. Justice William O. Douglas writes the majority opinion, with Justice Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II dissenting. Douglas cites the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954) and the recently passed Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965) in his ruling. [Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Abe Fortas.Abe Fortas. [Source: US Senate]Abe Fortas resigns from the Supreme Court under pressure. Fortas, a liberal Democrat and political crony of outgoing president Lyndon Johnson, was originally chosen by Johnson to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren, but conservatives in the Senate blocked Fortas’s confirmation (see June 23, 1969). President Nixon intended to fill the Court with as many of his choices as possible, and he, along with conservative Republicans and Democrats who do not agree with Fortas’s liberal stance on civil rights, targeted Fortas for a smear campaign designed to force him off the bench. Nixon used what White House counsel John Dean will later call “an ugly bluff” against Fortas: He has Attorney General John Mitchell inform Fortas that he intends to open a special probe into Fortas’s dealings—while on the bench—with a financier already under investigation. Mitchell insinuates that he will put Fortas’s wife, herself an attorney and partner at Fortas’s former law firm, and other former partners of Fortas’s on the witness stand. Whether Fortas actually had any direct illegal dealings with this financier is unclear—certainly his dealings had such an appearance—but the bluff worked; Fortas agreed to retire early, thus clearing a position on the Court for Nixon to fill. Nixon will find it difficult to replace Fortas with one of the Southern conservatives he wants on the Court; Senate Democrats will lead successful efforts to block the nomination of two of Nixon’s nominees, the respected, moderately conservative Clement Haynsworth, and the virulently racist G. Harrold Carswell, himself recommended by Mitchell’s assistant, William Rehnquist. (Carswell’s failed nomination will produce a memorable statement from Senator Roman Hruska (R-NE), who, in defense of Carswell, tells the Senate: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”) Nixon will use the defeats to make political hay in the South by claiming that Senate Democrats do not want a Southerner on the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 127-129]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Roman Hruska, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Mitchell, G. Harrold Carswell, John Dean, Clement Haynsworth, Earl Warren, Abe Fortas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)‘s Fairness Doctrine, which mandates that broadcasters provide opportunities for differing viewpoints to be aired concerning political and social issues (see 1949 and 1959), is constitutional. The case, Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, concerns personal attacks alleged by journalist Fred Cook, who says he was vilified on the air by conservative Christian broadcaster Reverend Billy James Hargis. Cook had demanded free air time under the Fairness Doctrine to respond to the attacks. In an 8-0 decision, the Court rules that although similar laws are unconstitutional when applied to the press, radio stations must hew to a different standard because of the limited public airwaves. Justice Byron White, writing for the majority, finds: “A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.… There is no sanctuary in the First Amendment for unlimited private censorship operating in a medium not open to all.… It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.… It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC.” White’s ruling warns that if the Fairness Doctrine ever restrains speech, then its constitutionality should be reconsidered. [Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, 6/9/1969; York Daily Record, 5/6/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Byron White, Billy James Hargis, Federal Communications Commission, Fred Cook, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

June 23, 1969: Burger Becomes Chief Justice

Warren Burger.Warren Burger. [Source: US Government]Former appellate judge Warren Burger begins his term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Burger was named months before by newly elected president Richard Nixon after two earlier candidates, former Eisenhower attorney general Herbert Brownell and former GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, turned down the job. Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas was to be Chief Justice as one of then-president Lyndon Johnson’s last acts, but Senate Republicans, supported by conservative Senate Democrats who oppose Fortas’s civil rights rulings, successfully filibustered Fortas’s nomination and actually forced Fortas’s premature resignation (see May 14, 1969). The blocking of Fortas has an additional element: in June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced that he would step down, giving Johnson ample time to place Fortas in the position. However, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon wanted to name the Chief Justice himself, if he won the national election. To that end, Nixon sent word to Congressional Republicans to block Johnson’s naming of a replacement for Warren. Senate Republicans launched the filibuster after being given information that intimated Fortas had received an inordinately large honorarium for teaching a course at American University, a sum said to have been raised by one of his former law partners. [Dean, 2007, pp. 127-128]

Entity Tags: Herbert Brownell, Earl Warren, Thomas Dewey, Warren Burger, Abe Fortas, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Official portrait of Justice William O. Douglas.Official portrait of Justice William O. Douglas. [Source: Oyez.org]After the second of President Richard Nixon’s conservative Supreme Court nominees is rejected by Congress (see May 14, 1969), House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) leads an unsuccessful fight to impeach Justice William O. Douglas. Nixon, through White House aide John Ehrlichman, mobilizes Ford to go after Douglas, presumably in retaliation for the rejection of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell. When legal scholars say that Douglas’s unconventional views and behavior come nowhere near constituting grounds for impeachment, Ford says that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be in a given moment in history.” Ford uses unusually strong language (for him) in denouncing Douglas; he questions Douglas’s association with a charitable foundation, his association with the “leftish” Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and blasts Douglas’s most recent book, Points of Rebellion, saying that it gives “legitimacy to the militant hippie-yippie movement” and is little more than an incitement to rebellion. (Ford is particularly outraged by the recent publication of an excerpt of Douglas’s book in Evergreen magazine, an excerpt preceded by photographs of nudes that Ford calls “hardcore pornography.” Ford expresses his moral outrage by ensuring that his colleagues have the chance to view every photograph.) Although Ford does enough in-chamber logrolling to get the matter working in the House Rules Committee, two weeks later Nixon abruptly backs off, leaving Ford, in the words of author Barry Werth, “to look foolishly partisan.” [Time, 4/27/1970; Werth, 2006, pp. 233-234]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Richard M. Nixon, William O. Douglas, John Ehrlichman, House Rules Committee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Barry Werth, Evergreen Magazine, G. Harrold Carswell, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Clement Haynsworth

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After a series of rulings and appeals that fail to remove the temporary restraining order against the New York Times in the case surrounding its publication of the “Pentagon Papers” (see June 18, 1971), the newspaper files a request to have its case against the government heard in the US Supreme Court. Fearing that the articles will soon begin appearing in newspapers all over the country, the government asks the Supreme Court to block publication of the Papers in the press, and the Court agrees. Other newspapers hold off publication of similar articles until the Court can rule. [Herda, 1994]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Opening arguments in the Pentagon Papers case of New York Times Company v. United States (see June 15, 1971 and June 24, 1971) begin in the Supreme Court. The government argues that the publication of articles based on the documents constitutes a “grave and immediate danger” to US interests, and that the “integrity of the institution of the presidency” must be protected. For the Times, the arguments are that, first, since it took days for the government to respond to the publication of the first articles, the documents must not be that sensitive; lower courts could not find a single sensitive document among the documents; the government had no right imposing restraints on a newspaper’s First Amendment rights to publish in this situation; and that many times in recent history the Times and other news outlets had published “leaked” information, often information that was deliberately leaked by government sources. [Herda, 1994]

Entity Tags: New York Times, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Supreme Court rules 6-3 not to permanently enjoin the New York Times and other press organs from publishing articles derived from the Pentagon Papers (see June 26, 1971). Three justices, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall, insist that the government can never suppress the publication of information no matter what the threat to national security; the other three in the majority, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and William Brennan, use a more moderate “common sense” standard that says, though the government can suppress publication of sensitive information under circumstances of war or national emergency, this case did not meet the criteria for such suppression. Chief Justice Warren Burger is joined by Harry Blackmun and John Harlan in dissenting; they believe that the president has the unrestrained authority to prevent confidential materials affecting foreign policy from being published. The Times’s lawyer says that the ruling will help ensure that a federal court will not issue a restraining order against a news outlet simply because the government is unhappy with the publication of a particular article. [Herda, 1994]

Entity Tags: Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Byron White, Hugo Black, John Harlan, New York Times, Potter Stewart, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

Deputy Attorney General William Rehnquist is sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, replacing the retiring John Harlan. Rehnquist was active in the Arizona Republican Party, and became well-known in the state as a conservative activist who, among other things, opposed school integration. Rehnquist befriended fellow Phoenix attorney Richard Kleindienst, who, after becoming attorney general under Richard Nixon, brought Rehnquist into the Justice Department. Rehnquist faced little difficulty in his confirmation hearings in the Democratically-led Senate Judiciary Hearings. [Oyez (.org), 9/3/2005] Rehnquist may have perjured himself during those hearings. He was confronted with charges that, as a Republican Party attorney and poll watcher, he had harassed and challenged minority voters in Arizona during the 1962, 1964, and 1966 elections. Rehnquist swore in an affidavit that the charges were false, even though the evidence available to the Senate showed Rehnquist did take part in such activities, which were legal in Arizona at the time. (Rehnquist will again deny the charges in 1986, when he is nominated for chief justice—see September 26, 1986). Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will observe: “After reading and rereading his testimony, it appears to me that what he was really saying to the Senate [in 1971] was that he was not quite sure himself of his behavior, but he could not bring himself to tell the truth. Thus, his blanket 1971 denial forced him to remain consistent to that denial in 1986, and since his blanket denial was a lie, he had to continue lying. His false statement to Congress in 1971 was a crime, but the statute of limitations had passed. His false statement to Congress in 1986, however, was pure perjury.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, William Rehnquist, John Harlan, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court overturns Tennessee’s “Duration Residency” law that prohibits some residents from voting. In the case of Dunn v. Blumstein, Tennessee’s law requiring voters to live in the state for a year before voting, and in a given county for 90 days before voting, is challenged. Tennessee law requires voters to register 30 days before an election in order to vote in that election, but has more stringent residency requirements. A lower court held the law unconstitutional because it interfered with a citizen’s right to vote and created what the court called a “suspect” classification of citizens, resulting in some Tennessee residents being unfairly penalized. Tennessee’s position is that the requirements are needed to ensure the integrity of voting, and to ensure that voters are knowledgeable about what they are voting on. The Supreme Court finds that the “durational residency” requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; US Supreme Court Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, in what becomes informally known as the “Keith case,” upholds, 8-0, an appellate court ruling that strikes down warrantless surveillance of domestic groups for national security purposes. The Department of Justice had wiretapped, without court warrants, several defendants charged with destruction of government property; those wiretaps provided key evidence against the defendants. Attorney General John Mitchell refused to disclose the source of the evidence pursuant to the “national security” exception to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The courts disagreed, and the government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower courts’ rulings against the government in a unanimous verdict. The Court held that the wiretaps were an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment, establishing the judicial precedent that warrants must be obtained before the government can wiretap a US citizen. [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] Critics of the Nixon administration have long argued that its so-called “Mitchell Doctrine” of warrantlessly wiretapping “subversives” has been misused to spy on anyone whom Nixon officials believe may be political enemies. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259] As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress passes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]
Opinion of Justice Powell - Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis Powell observes: “History abundantly documents the tendency of Government—however benevolent and benign its motives—to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.” [US Supreme Court, 6/19/1972]
Justice Department Wiretapped Reporters, Government Officials - In February 1973, the media will report that, under the policy, the Justice Department had wiretapped both reporters and Nixon officials themselves who were suspected of leaking information to the press (see May 1969 and July 26-27, 1970), and that some of the information gleaned from those wiretaps was given to “Plumbers” E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy for their own political espionage operations. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 258-259]
Conyers Hails Decision 30 Years Later - In 2003, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) will say on the floor of the House: “Prior to 1970, every modern president had claimed ‘inherent Executive power’ to conduct electronic surveillance in ‘national security’ cases without the judicial warrant required in criminal cases by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Then Attorney General John Mitchell, on behalf of President Richard Nixon sought to wiretap several alleged ‘domestic’ terrorists without warrants, on the ground that it was a national security matter. Judge [Damon] Keith rejected this claim of the Sovereign’s inherent power to avoid the safeguard of the Fourth Amendment. He ordered the government to produce the wiretap transcripts. When the Attorney General appealed to the US Supreme Court, the Court unanimously affirmed Judge Keith. The Keith decision not only marked a watershed in civil liberties protection for Americans. It also led directly to the current statutory restriction on the government’s electronic snooping in national security cases.” [John Conyers, 5/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, US Supreme Court, John Mitchell, E. Howard Hunt, US Department of Justice, G. Gordon Liddy, ’Plumbers’, Damon Keith, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

In the case of Pipefitters Local Union No. 562 et al v. US, the Supreme Court overturns a criminal conviction of the Pipefitters Union for violating the Smith-Connally Act (see June 25, 1943) and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see 1925). That law bans labor unions from contributing to political campaigns, and Pipefitters Union officials had administered a political action committee (see 1944). The Court, citing the newly passed Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972), overturns the conviction, ruling that FECA “plainly permits union officials to establish, administer, and solicit contributions for a political fund.” The decision is later codified by the amendments to the law (see 1974). [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; US Supreme Court Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Pipefitters Union, US Supreme Court, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision.Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision. [Source: RubeReality (.com)]The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, legalizes abortion on a federal level in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The majority opinion is written by Justice Harry Blackmun; he is joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and William Rehnquist dissent from the opinion. Blackmun’s majority opinion finds that the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. White’s dissent argues that the Court has “fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invest[ed] that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.” The decision does not make abortion freely available to women in any stage of pregnancy. It places the following constraints:
bullet No restrictions on availability are made during the first trimester (three months) of a woman’s pregnancy.
bullet Because of increased risks to a woman’s health during the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
bullet In the third and final trimester, since the rate of viability (live birth) is markedly greater than in the first two trimesters, the state can restrict or even prohibit abortions as it chooses, “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Originally brought to challenge a Texas law prohibiting abortions, the decision disallows a host of state and federal restrictions on abortion, and sparks an enormous controversy over the moral, religious, and legal viability of abortion that continues well into the 21st century. [ROE v. WADE, 410 US 113 (1973), 1/22/1973; CNN, 1/22/2003; National Abortion Federation, 2010] In a related case, Roe v. Bolton, the Court strikes down restrictions on facilities that can be used to provide abortions. The ruling leads to the establishment of so-called “abortion clinics.” [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Potter Stewart, Byron White, Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties

Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the Senate Watergate Committee demand that President Nixon hand over a selection of presidential documents and the secret White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon refuses to hand over any of the requested material. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] He invokes “executive privilege,” which Nixon says is essential to maintaining the constitutional mandate of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Cox immediately subpoenas the documents and tapes, as does the Senate committee. Commitee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) says: “I deeply regret that this situation has arisen, because I think that the Watergate tragedy is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered. I used to think that the Civil War was our country’s greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there were some redeeming features in the Civil War in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.” Vice chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) is a bit more equivocal, saying he is disappointed in being “on the brink of a constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the White House.” The documents, Baker says, are “essential, if not vital, to the full, thorough inquiry mandated and required of this committee.” In a letter to Ervin, Nixon says the tapes are not essential to the investigation; he has personally gone through them and they “are entirely consistent with what I know to be the truth and what I have stated to be the truth.” However, some of the comments on the tapes could be misconstrued, he says, and much of the conversations on the tapes are of a “frank and very private” nature. The tapes will remain “under my sole personal control,” Nixon writes. “None has been transcribed or made public and none will be.” Cox argues that, as a member of the executive branch himself, there is no issue over separation of powers; White House consultant Charles Alan Wright retorts in a letter to Cox that since he does not report either to the attorney general or the president, his role is hard to define. But if Cox is indeed a member of the executive branch, “you are subject to the instructions of your superiors, up to and including the president, and can have access to presidential papers only as and if the president sees fit to make them available to you.” Even more importantly, Wright notes, if the tapes become available to the judiciary, then the argument of separation of powers involving the executive and judicial branches is an issue. Cox rejects Wright’s argument. The ultimate arbiter of this dispute may not even be the Supreme Court, as it has no power to compel Nixon to turn over the tapes even if it rules against him. Impeachment and conviction seems the only legal method to ultimately force Nixon’s hand if he continues to be recalcitrant. [Washington Post, 7/24/1973]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Archibald Cox, Charles Alan Wright, Sam Ervin, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address.August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” [White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ehrlichman, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski issues a subpoena for 64 formerly secret Watergate tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). The case will be decided in the Supreme Court (see July 24, 1974). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Jaworski also demands information concerning:
bullet The possible “sale” of ambassadorships to large campaign contributors (see March-April 1972);
bullet The Nixon administration’s settlement of the ITT antitrust lawsuit (see 1969);
bullet The White House’s negotiation with milk producers to artificially inflate prices in return for campaign contributions (see March 23, 1971);
bullet President Nixon’s notes on his daily news summaries;
bullet Former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s records on his dealings with the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971);
bullet Other Nixon conversations concerning the Watergate cover-up; and
bullet The location of the tape containing the 18 1/2 minute gap (see November 21, 1973) during the time when Nixon claimed the tapes were in his custody. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 607]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Leon Jaworski, John Ehrlichman, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, ’Plumbers’, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The US Supreme Court rules in Richardson v. Ramirez that states may deny convicted felons the right to vote. The case originated when felons who had completed their sentences sued the California secretary of state and election officials, challenging a state constitutional provision and related statutes that permanently denied them the right to vote unless their rights were restored, on an individual basis, by court order or executive pardon. The burden is generally on the state to show a “compelling state interest” in denying a citizen the right to vote. The plaintiffs argued that California had no compelling state interest in denying them their right to vote. The plaintiffs won their case in California’s Supreme Court. However, the US Supreme Court rules that a state does not have to prove that its felony disfranchisement laws serve a compelling state interest. The Court finds that the Fourteenth Amendment exempts felony disenfranchisement laws from the burden placed on states in voting rights matters. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012] The Court writes: “[I]t is not for us to choose one set of values over the other. If respondents are correct, and the view which they advocate is indeed the more enlightened one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to the view. And if they do not do so, their failure is some evidence, at least, of the fact that there are two sides to the argument.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010; RICHARDSON v. RAMIREZ, 418 US 24 (1974), 2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, California Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court, in the case of United States v. Nixon, votes 8-0 to uphold the subpoena of special prosecutor Leon Jaworski demanding the Watergate tapes for use in the trial of Nixon’s former aides (see March 1, 1974). (William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from deliberations.) The Court rules, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, that Nixon’s claim of “executive privilege” authorizing him to keep the tapes to himself does not apply, and that his lawyers’ claim that neither the courts nor the special prosecutor have the authority to review the claim also has no weight. Jaworski and one of his senior staffers, Philip Lacovara, argued the case against an array of lawyers for Nixon headed by James St. Clair. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jaworski. [UNITED STATES v. NIXON, 7/24/1974; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Richard M. Nixon, Philip Lacovara, American Civil Liberties Union, James St. Clair, US Supreme Court, Leon Jaworski

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Barbara Jordan speaking before the House Judiciary Committee.Barbara Jordan speaking before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: American Rhetoric (.com)]Barbara Jordan (D-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, makes an eloquent speech reminding her colleagues of the constitutional basis for impeaching a president (see May 9, 1974). Jordan says that America has come too far for her “to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” Jordan reminds her colleagues that impeachment is not conviction. It proceeds “from the misconduct of public men… the abuse or violation of some public trust.” To vote for impeachment, she says, is not a vote for removing the president from office. The power of impeachment is “an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive.” The framers of the Constitution “did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.… The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the executive.” It cannot become a political tool to strike against a president that a group of partisans dislikes, but must “proceed within the confines of the constitutional term, ‘high crime and misdemeanors.’” The evidence against President Nixon is enough to show that he did know that money from his re-election campaign funded the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), and he did know of campaign official E. Howard Hunt’s participation in the burglary of a psychiatrist’s office to find damaging information against a political enemy (see September 9, 1971), as well as Hunt’s participation in the Dita Beard/ITT affair (see February 22, 1972), and “Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy administration.” The Nixon White House has not cooperated properly with Congress and the special Watergate prosecutor in turning over evidence under subpoena; Jordan says it was not clear that Nixon would even obey a Supreme Court ruling that the evidence must be given up (see July 24, 1974). Nixon has repeatedly lied to Congress, the investigators, and the US citizenry about what he knew and when he knew it, and has repeatedly attempted to “thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors.” In short, Nixon has betrayed the public trust. He is impeachable, Jordan says, because he has attempted to “subvert the Constitution.” She says: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth century paper shredder. Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? This is the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” [American Rhetoric, 7/25/1974]

Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Barbara Jordan, Dita Beard, E. Howard Hunt, House Judiciary Committee, Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court, International Telephone and Telegraph, Leon Jaworski

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Researching the legal and technical aspects of presidential pardons (see August 30, 1974), Benton Becker, President Ford’s lawyer, finds that they only apply to federal crimes, meaning, for example, that Richard Nixon can still be prosecuted for crimes in California arising from his connections to the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). It would not affect a Senate impeachment trial, even though the possibility of that happening is increasingly remote. Becker finds two legal references of particular use in his research: the 1915 Supreme Court case of United States v. Burdick, which attempted to answer the fundamental question of the meaning of a presidential pardon; and an 1833 quote from the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace… which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” Becker determines that such an “act of grace” is an implicit admission of guilt. Unlike the proposed conditional amnesty for draft evaders (see August 31, 1974), a pardon will strike convictions from the books and exempt those pardoned from any responsibility for answering for their crimes, but it does not forget (in a legal sense) that those crimes took place. “The pardon is an act of forgiveness,” Becker explains. “We are forgiving you—the president, the executive, the king—is forgiving you for what you’ve done, your illegal act that you’ve either been convicted of, or that you’ve been accused of, or that you’re being investigated for, or that you’re on trial for. And you don’t have to accept this—you can refuse this.” The Burdick decision convinces Becker that by pardoning Nixon, Ford can stop his imminent prosecution, and undoubted conviction, without having to condone Nixon’s crimes. For Nixon to accept a pardon would be, in a legal sense, an admission of criminal wrongdoing. [Werth, 2006, pp. 263-265]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, John Marshall, Benton Becker

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, filed by Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) and former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) against the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo, challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) on free-speech grounds. The suit also named the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a defendant. A federal appeals court validated almost all of FECA, and the plaintiffs sent the case to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the contribution limits set by FECA because those limits help to safeguard the integrity of elections. However, the court overrules the limits set on campaign expenditures, ruling: “It is clear that a primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions… limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.” One of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that financial contributions to political campaigns can be considered expressions of free speech, thereby allowing individuals to essentially make unrestricted donations. The Court implies that expenditure limits on publicly funded candidates are allowable under the Constitution, because presidential candidates may disregard the limits by rejecting public financing (the Court will affirm this stance in a challenge brought by the Republican National Committee in 1980).
Provisions of 'Buckley' - The Court finds the following provisions constitutional:
bullet Limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office;
bullet Disclosure and record-keeping provisions; and
bullet The public financing of presidential elections.
However, the Court finds these provisions unconstitutional:
bullet Limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for presidential candidates who accept public funding;
bullet The $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures;
bullet The limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds; and
bullet The method of appointing members of the FEC, holding that as the method stands, it violates the principle of separation of powers.
In May 1976, following the Court’s ruling, the FEC will reconstitute its board with six presidential appointees after Senate confirmation. [Federal Elections Commission, 3/1997; Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012]
No Clear Authors - The opinion is labeled per curiam, a term usually reserved for brief and minor Court decisions when authorship of an opinion is less relevant. It is unclear exactly which Justices write the opinion. Most Court observers believe Justice William Brennan writes the bulk of the opinion, but Brennan’s biographers will later note that sections of the opinion are authored by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. The opinion is an amalgamation of multiple authors, reflecting the several compromises made in the resolution of the decision. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Criticism of 'Buckley' - Critics claim that the ruling enshrines the principle of “money equals speech.” The ruling also says that television and radio advertisements that do not expressly attack an individual candidate can be paid for with “unregulated” funds. This leads organizations to begin airing “attack ads” that masquerade as “issue ads,” ostensibly promoting or opposing a particular social or political issue and avoiding such words as “elect” or “defeat.” [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1999, law professor Burt Neuborne will write: “Buckley is like a rotten tree. Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.” Neuborne will write that his preference goes towards reasonable federal regulations of spending and contributions, but “any change would be welcome” in lieu of this decision, and even a completely deregulated system would be preferable to Buckley’s legal and intellectual incoherence. [New York Times, 5/3/2010] In 2011, law professor Richard Hasen will note that while the Buckley decision codifies the idea that contributions are a form of free speech, it also sets strict limitations on those contributions. Calling the decision “Solomonic,” Hasen will write that the Court “split the baby, upholding the contribution limits but striking down the independent spending limit as a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech and association.” Hasen will reflect: “Buckley set the main parameters for judging the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions for a generation. Contribution limits imposed only a marginal restriction on speech, because the most important thing about a contribution is the symbolic act of contributing, not the amount. Further, contribution limits could advance the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Court upheld Congress’ new contribution limits. It was a different story with spending limits, which the Court said were a direct restriction on speech going to the core of the First Amendment. Finding no evidence in the record then that independent spending could corrupt candidates, the Court applied a tough ‘strict scrutiny’ standard of review and struck down the limits.” [Slate, 10/25/2011] In 2012, reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin will call it “one of the Supreme Court’s most complicated, contradictory, incomprehensible (and longest) opinions.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Federal Election Commission, James Buckley, Jeffrey Toobin, US Supreme Court, Eugene McCarthy, Lewis Powell, Potter Stewart, Burt Neuborne, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Richard L. Hasen, William Brennan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court alters voting rights in the case of Beer v. United States. The Court rules that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) allows for “preclearance” of election changes that are unfair to minorities as long as the changes are not “retrogressive,” or make conditions worse than they already are. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; BEER v. UNITED STATES, 425 U.S. 130 (1976), 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Amendments to the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) passed by Congress after the controversial Buckley ruling by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976) bring FECA into conformity with the Court’s decision. The amendments repeal expenditure limits except for presidential candidates who accept public funding, and revise the provisions governing the appointment of commissioners to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The amendments also limit the scope of PAC fundraising by corporations and labor unions. The amendments limit individual contributions to national political parties to $20,000 per year, and individual contributions to a PAC to $5,000 per year. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file] However, the Constitution restricts what Congress can, or is willing, to do, and the amendments are relatively insignificant. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, says states cannot give husbands veto power over their pregnant wives’ decision to abort their pregnancies. By a 5-4 vote, the court says parents of minor, unwed girls cannot be given an absolute veto over abortions. [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

An amendment to a Congressional appropriations bill is signed into law. The amendment, sponsored by Representative Henry Hyde (D-IL), prohibits the use of certain federal funds to fund abortions, and primarily affects Medicaid payments. It will quickly become known as the Hyde Amendment and will be renewed every year thereafter. The amendment is a response to the 1973 legalization of abortion by the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973), and represents the first major victory by anti-abortion forces to restrict the availability of abortions in the US. Many abortion advocates say the amendment unfairly targets low-income women, effectively denying them access to abortions, and restricts abortions to women who can pay for them. A 2000 study will show that up to 35 percent of women eligible for Medicaid would have had abortions had public funding been available to them; instead, they carried their pregnancies to term against their own wishes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will call the amendment “discriminatory.” In 1993, the wording of the Hyde Amendment will be modified to read, “None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be expended for any abortion except when it is made known to the federal entity or official to which funds are appropriated under this Act that such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother or that the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” The wording will remain the same for the next 17 years. As the amendment covers only federal spending, some states, including Hawaii and New York, cover abortions. Court challenges will result in the forcible coverage of abortions in other states. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/21/2004; National Abortion Federation, 2006; National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, 3/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, American Civil Liberties Union, Henry Hyde

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The Supreme Court, in the case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, rules 5-4 that corporations have the First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence political processes. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell finds that under the recent Buckley ruling (see January 30, 1976), corporate political donations are protected speech. Powell’s opinion finds that a Massachusetts criminal statute prohibiting corporations from spending money for the purpose of “influencing or affecting” voters’ opinions is not legitimate. The split among the justices is unusual, with Powell, a conservative, being joined by two more conservatives, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Potter Stewart, and liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. The four dissenters are liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, and conservatives Byron White and William Rehnquist. [FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Rehnquist’s standalone dissent advocates for far stricter controls on corporate spending in elections than most of the other justices’ dissents, with Rehnquist writing that such spending could “pose special dangers in the political sphere.” [Reclaim Democracy, 4/26/1978; FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI, 2012]

Entity Tags: Lewis Powell, Byron White, John Paul Stevens, William Rehnquist, Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, US Supreme Court, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court refuses to hear a case brought against President Jimmy Carter by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and several other conservative lawmakers. In Goldwater v. Carter, the senators argue that Carter exceeded his authority in unilaterally withdrawing the United States from a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. Carter took the unusual step in order to recognize the Communist government in mainland China as the US-recognized representative government of China. Goldwater and his fellows argued that Congress, not the president, has the power to withdraw the US from a treaty with another nation. The Court, in an 8-1 decision with liberal Justice William Brennan dissenting, rules that the case is not appropriate for the judiciary, but should be resolved via negotiation and legislation between the legislative and executive branches. Conservative Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion. Congress, controlled by Carter’s Democratic Party, does not address the question of how to properly withdraw the nation from a treaty, and Carter’s action stands. [Savage, 2007, pp. 141-142; Oyez (.org), 6/2007]

Entity Tags: William Brennan, Barry Goldwater, William Rehnquist, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The US Supreme Court guts a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) by ruling that voters must prove racially discriminatory intent in order to prevail in litigation under the VRA. In the case of City of Mobile v. Bolden, the Court rules 6-3 that the previous standard of proving discriminatory results is no longer adequate. Disenfranchised voters must now prove intent, a far higher standard, before receiving redress. The case originates in Mobile, Alabama’s practice of electing city commissioners under an at-large voting scheme. No African-American had ever been elected to the commission, and a number of Mobile citizens challenged the constitutionality of the at-large scheme. The Court found that at-large schemes such as that employed by the city of Mobile only violate the Constitution if they deliberately serve to minimize or cancel out the voting potential of minorities. Justice Potter Stewart, writing for the plurality, finds that the right to equal participation in the electoral process is aimed not for the protection of any political group. Moreover, he writes that the evidence fails to show that Mobile operates a voting system with the intent to discriminate. The conservative justices largely side with Stewart. The liberals are split. Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens concur with Stewart’s ruling for different reasons than those expressed by Stewart. Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and Byron White dissent, with Brennan and White arguing that the burden of proof had been met, and Marshall arguing that the burden of proof should be on Mobile to show that it refused to modify its voting scheme despite the evidence of discrimination. [MOBILE v. BOLDEN, 446 US 55 (1980), 4/22/1980 pdf file; Casebriefs, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Byron White, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules in INS v. Chadha that Congress has no right to issue what it calls “legislative vetoes,” essentially provisions passed by Congress giving the executive branch specific powers but with Congress reserving the right to veto specific decisions by the executive branch if it does not approve of the decisions made by the executive. Congress had relied on such “legislative vetoes” for years to curb the expanding power of the president. The Court strikes down hundreds of these “legislative vetoes” throughout federal law. Congress quickly schedules hearings to decide how to respond to the Court’s ruling. White House attorney John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), a young, fast-rising conservative, is one of a team of lawyers assigned to review the administration’s upcoming testimony before Congress. Some of the lawyers want to push Congress to place independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under White House control—part of the evolving “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see April 30, 1986). Roberts writes: “With respect to independent agencies… the time may be ripe to reconsider the existence of such entities, and take action to bring them back within the executive branch.… I agree that the time is ripe to reconsider the Constitutional anomaly of independent agencies… More timid souls may, however, desire to see this deleted as provocative.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 256-257]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court, in the case of Federal Election Commission v. NCPAC, rules that political action committees (PACs) can spend more than the $1,000 mandated by federal law (see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976). The Democratic Party and the FEC argued that large expenditures by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975 violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which caps spending by independent political action committees in support of a publicly funded presidential candidate at $1,000. The Court rules 7-2 in favor of NCPAC, finding that the relevant section of FECA encroaches on the organization’s right to free speech (see January 30, 1976). Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion, joined by fellow conservatives Chief Justice Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Lewis Powell, and liberals Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and William Brennan. Justices Byron White and Thurgood Marshall dissent from the majority. [Oyez (.org), 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, William Brennan, William Rehnquist, Byron White, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court, Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Democratic Party, Lewis Powell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the case of Hunter v. Underwood, the US Supreme Court rules that states have the right to legally strip convicted criminals of the right to vote as long as no “racially discriminatory intent” is in effect, and strikes down a portion of Alabama law that is found to be discriminatory. The Court rules unanimously, 8-0 (Justice Lewis Powell does not participate in the case). The two plaintiffs—one black and one white—were barred from voting in Alabama after being charged with a misdemeanor crime, and filed a lawsuit against the state. A district court ruled against them, denying that Alabama’s Constitution disenfranchises citizens convicted of crimes in a discriminatory fashion (see 1802-1857 and 1901). The Supreme Court overturns that decision, finding that Alabama’s law violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The fact that the relevant portion of the Alabama Constitution “may have been adopted to discriminate against poor whites as well as against blacks would not render nugatory the purpose to discriminate against blacks, it being clear that the latter was a ‘but-for’ motivation.… There is no evidence that the disenfranchisement of those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude was a motivating purpose of the 1901 Convention” (referring to the 1901 revision of the Alabama Constitution to use disenfranchisement as a tool to prevent blacks from voting—see 1901). [Hunter v. Underwood - 471 US 222 (1985), 4/16/1985; ProCon, 10/19/2010; Oyez (.org), 2012; Marcus McClellan, 5/14/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Lewis Powell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Calabresi joins the Justice Department. Calabresi is a young conservative lawyer who has clerked for appeals court Robert Bork, who failed to secure a position on the Supreme Court just months before (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society of conservative lawyers and judges, joins forces with another ambitious young Justice Department lawyer, John Harrison, and the two begin working to expand the power of the president. Calabresi and Harrison decide that an aggressive use of presidential signing statements can advance the president’s authority to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. Unfazed by a recent judicial rejection of just such signing statement usage (see 1984-1985), Calabresi and Harrison write a memo to Attorney General Edwin Meese advocating the issuing of more signing statements as part of a larger strategy to increase the president’s influence over the law. Calabresi and Harrison are interested in how what they call “activist judges” use the legislative history of a bill that became law to interpret that law’s meaning in subsequent judicial actions. The two lawyers believe that by issuing signing statements, the president can create a parallel record of presidential interpretations of potentially ambiguous laws to help guide judicial decisions. Meese approves of the idea, and in December has the West Publishing Company, which prints the US Code Congressional and Administration News, the standard collection of bills’ legislative history, begin including presidential signing statements in its publications. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call Meese’s move “a major step in increasing the perceived legitimacy of the device.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232] In 2007, Calabresi will say: “I initially thought of signing statements as presidential legislative history. I’ve subsequently come to think of them as being important vehicles by which presidents can control subordinates in the executive branch. They subsequently came to be important to the unitary executive [theory of presidential power].” [Savage, 2007, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: John Harrison, Charlie Savage, Federalist Society, West Publishing Company, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Steven Calabresi, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

William Rehnquist.William Rehnquist. [Source: US Department of Justice]Associate Justice William Rehnquist becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A strict conservative, Rehnquist will oversee the transformation of the Court from a middle-of-the-road, sometimes left-leaning instrument into a conservative entity dominated by the “axis” of Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986), and Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991). [Legal Times, 9/5/2005]
False Testimony? - According to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, writing in his 2007 book Broken Government, Rehnquist is the first true conservative fundamentalist to be appointed to the Court, “and he would set a pattern for other fundamentalists who found it necessary to make their way through the confirmation process by deception.” Dean, and others, have alleged that Rehnquist lied to the Senate both in his 1971 appointment to the Court as an associate judge (see January 7, 1972) and in his 1986 hearings for becoming chief justice. Dean will write that Rehnquist’s testimony during both sets of Senate confirmations hearings was “conspicuously false,” and in 1986 he committed “pure perjury.” In both sets of hearings, Rehnquist was embarrassed by a 1952 memo he had written while clerking for then-Justice Robert Jackson, in which Rehnquist had urged Jackson not to vote in support of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict that overturned the “separate but equal” clause that allowed for state-sponsored segregation. Although it is clear Rehnquist was stating his own pro-segregationist views, he apparently lied to the Senate over this memo as well, claiming that the memo was written to reflect Jackson’s own views and not his own. Dean will write, “It was an absurd contention, and a defamation of the dead justice for which he worked.” Law professor Laura Ray will observe in 1996: “With the [top] seat on the Supreme Court almost in his grasp, Rehnquist may well have retreated from an uncomfortable position taken almost twenty years earlier in the only way that seemed open to him. That such a step might tarnish the reputation of Justice Jackson years after his death does not seem to have been a concern.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: Robert Jackson, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, John Dean, Laura Ray, Antonin Scalia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules in Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life that an anti-abortion organization can print flyers promoting “pro-life” candidates in the weeks before an election, and that the portion of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) that bars distribution of such materials to the general public restricts free speech. In September 1978, the Massachusetts Citizens For Life (MCFL) spent almost $10,000 printing flyers captioned “Everything You Need to Vote Pro-Life,” which included information about specific federal and state candidates’ positions on abortion rights, along with exhortations to “vote pro-life” and “No pro-life candidate can win in November without your vote in September.” The Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled that MCFL’s expenditures violated FECA’s ban on corporate spending in connection with federal elections. A Massachusetts district court ruled against the FEC, finding that the flyer distribution “was uninvited by any candidate and uncoordinated with any campaign” and the flyers fell under the “newspaper exemption” of the law. Moreover, the court found, FECA’s restrictions infringed on MCFL’s freedom of speech (see January 30, 1976 and April 26, 1978). An appeals court reversed much of the district court’s decision, but agreed that the named provision of FECA violated MCFL’s free speech rights. The FEC appealed to the Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the Court affirms that FECA’s prohibition on corporate expenditures is unconstitutional as applied to independent expenditures made by a narrowly defined type of nonprofit corporation such as MCFL. The Court writes that few organizations will be impacted by its decision. The majority opinion is written by Justice William Brennan, a Court liberal, and joined by liberal Thurgood Marshall and conservatives Lewis Powell, Antonin Scalia, and (in part) by Sandra Day O’Connor. Court conservatives William Rehnquist and Byron White, joined by liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, dissent with the majority, saying that the majority ruling gives “a vague and barely adumbrated exception [to the law] certain to result in confusion and costly litigation.” [Federal Election Commission, 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court, William Brennan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Byron White, Lewis Powell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Robert Bork.Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center]The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]

Entity Tags: Herman Schwartz, US Department of Justice, Gregory Peck, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Supreme Court, William Safire, Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker, Senate Judiciary Committee, Terry Eastland, Robert Bork, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court fails (see July 1-October 23, 1987), President Reagan nominates an equally hard-line conservative, appeals court judge Douglas Ginsberg. Ginsberg withdraws his nomination after the press learns that he had ignored a serious conflict-of-interest problem while at the Department of Justice, that he had smoked marijuana as both a student and a professor at Harvard Law School, and that, though Ginsberg professes to be stringently anti-abortion, his wife is a doctor who has herself performed abortions. Reagan will nominate a third and final selection for the Court, the somewhat more moderate Anthony Kennedy. [Washington Post, 1998; Federal Judicial Center, 9/26/2006; Dean, 2007, pp. 143-144]

Entity Tags: Harvard University Law School, Douglas Ginsberg, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Ronald Reagan, Robert Bork, Anthony Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court rules 2-1 in favor of Theodore Olson, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who has refused to comply with a subpoena issued as part of an independent counsel’s investigation into political interference at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Olson’s position is that the independent counsel is illegal under the Constitution, as interpreted by the so-called “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986). One of the appellate court judges, Carter appointee Ruth Bader Ginsberg, argues that the independent counsel law is perfectly constitutional, and fits with the Founding Fathers’ vision of a system of “checks and balances” among the three governmental branches. But Reagan appointees Laurence Silberman and Stephen Williams outvote Ginsberg. Silberman, who writes the majority opinion, is a longtime advocate of increased executive power, and calls the independent counsel law “inconsistent with the doctrine of a unitary executive.” The Supreme Court will strike down Silberman’s ruling (see June 1988), but the independent counsel will not bring charges against Olson. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Environmental Protection Agency, Laurence Silberman, Stephen Williams, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a 7-1 ruling, the Supreme Court rules that the independent counsel law is Constitutional and valid. The ruling overturns a recent appeals court ruling striking down the law because it conflicts with the “unitary executive” theory of government (see January 1988). The ruling stuns the Reagan administration, who had fiercely argued against the independent counsel law, in part because conservative justice William Rehnquist authors the majority opinion. Only Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia votes in favor of the unitary executive. [Savage, 2007, pp. 46-49]

Entity Tags: Antonin Scalia, US Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Erwin Griswold.Erwin Griswold. [Source: US Department of Justice]Former Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, who represented the United States before the Supreme Court in the landmark Pentagon Papers case in 1971 (see March 1971 and June 30, 1971), now writes that he saw nothing in those documents that threatened national security. In 1971, without ever actually reading the documents, Griswold argued that their publication constituted a “grave and immediate danger to the security of the United States.” Griswold writes in a Washington Post op-ed that he relied on the judgment of “three high officials, one each from the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Agency” to explain to him why the documents posed such a threat. (In 2006, then-White House counsel John Dean will write that Griswold “did not insist on knowing what was actually contained in the Pentagon Papers, and he never found out, even as he insisted on the importance of their continued secrecy.”) In 1971, Griswold told the Court: “I haven’t the slightest doubt myself that the material which has already been published and the publication of the other materials affects American lives and is a thoroughly serious matter. I think to say that it can only be enjoined if there will be a war tomorrow morning, when there is a war now going on, is much too narrow.” Griswold now writes: “I have never seen any trace of a threat to the national security from the publication [of the documents]. Indeed, I have never seen it even suggested that there was such an actual threat.… It quickly becomes apparent to any person who has considerable experience with classified material that there is massive overclassification and that the principal concern of the classifiers is not with national security, but rather with governmental embarrassment of one sort or another.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1989; FindLaw, 6/16/2006; Siegel, 2008, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Erwin Griswold, John Dean, US Department of State, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

Congress reauthorizes the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, and 1975) for 25 years, until 2014. It also overturns via legislation the Supreme Court’s decision to force voters to prove discriminatory intent before receiving redress (see April 22, 1980). President Reagan signs the bill into law. The reauthorization also adds protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters. Reagan calls the right to vote a “crown jewel” of American liberties. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Congress, Ronald Reagan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, gives states significant rights to regulate or constrain the availability of abortions. The ruling splits the Court in a 5-4 vote. The case allows states to restrict the use of public money, medical personnel, or facilities in performing abortions. It upholds a Missouri law that restricts the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, counseling, or assisting with abortions. It adds restrictions to rights previously thought upheld and granted by the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973). The Missouri law holds that “the life of each human being begins at conception” and “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being,” assumptions specifically not granted under federal laws and court decisions. The opinion is written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and joined by Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia form the majority vote with concurrent opinions; in his opinion, Scalia lambasts the other justices for not overturning Roe in its entirety. Justice Harry Blackmun joins Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, and John Paul Stevens in dissenting from the majority verdict. Blackmun writes that the decision can be interpreted to overturn Roe entirely, and writes, “I fear for the future… a chill wind blows.” [Oyez, 1989; Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (No. 88-605), 7/3/1989; FindLaw, 7/3/1989; CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Harry Blackmun, William Brennan, Sandra Day O’Connor, Thurgood Marshall, US Supreme Court, Byron White, William Rehnquist

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

The Supreme Court, in the case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, rules that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce (MCC) cannot run newspaper advertisements in support of a candidate for the state legislature because the MCC is subject to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibits corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates running for state offices. The Court finds that corporations can use money only from funds specifically designated for political purposes. The MCC holds a political fund separate from its other monies, but wanted to use money from its general fund to buy political advertising, and sued for the right to do so. The case explored whether a Michigan law prohibiting such political expenditures is constitutional. The Court agrees 7-2 that it is constitutional. Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy dissent, arguing that the government should not require such “segregated” funds, but should allow corporations and other such entities to spend their money on political activities without such restraints. [Public Resource (.org), 1990; Casebriefs, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] The 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) will overturn this decision, with Scalia and Kennedy voting in the majority, and Kennedy writing the majority opinion.

Entity Tags: Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Anthony Kennedy, Michigan Campaign Finance Act, US Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

When Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first and only African-American to serve on the Court, announces his retirement, the Bush administration is ready with a far more conservative replacement. President Bush himself is already under fire for previously naming a moderate, David Souter, to the Court, and Bush is determined to give his conservative base someone they can back. Although Bush had wanted to nominate an appropriately conservative Hispanic, his eventual nomination is Clarence Thomas, who is completing his first year as a judge on the DC Court of Appeals. Thomas has two qualifications that Bush officials want: like Marshall, he is African-American; unlike Marshall, he is as conservative a jurist as Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) or Robert Bork (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Two of former President Reagan’s closest legal advisers, C. Boyden Gray and Lee Liberman (a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society), privately call Thomas “the black Bork.” Bush calls Thomas “the most qualified man in the country” for the position. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] During the July 2 press conference to announce Thomas’s nomination, Bush says: “I don’t feel he’s a quota. I expressed my respect for the ground that Mr. Justice Marshall plowed, but I don’t feel there should be a black seat on the Court or an ethnic seat on the Court.” For his part, Thomas extols his upbringing as a desperately poor child in Georgia, crediting his grandmother and the nuns who taught him in Catholic schools as particular influences on his life and values. Republican senator Orrin Hatch says that opposing Thomas will be difficult: “Anybody who takes him on in the area of civil rights is taking on the grandson of a sharecropper.” [New York Times, 7/2/1991] However, the non-partisan American Bar Association’s recommendation panel splits on whether Thomas is qualified or not, the first time since 1969 the ABA has failed to unanimously recommend a nominee. Twelve panelists find Thomas “qualified,” two find him “not qualified,” and none find him “well qualified.” One senior Congressional aide calls the assessment of Thomas “the equivalent of middling.” [New York Times, 8/28/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “For the president to send a nominee to the Supreme Court with anything less than a uniformly well-qualified rating is irresponsible, but such decisions have become part of the politicization of the judiciary.” Thomas, himself a beneficiary of the nation’s affirmative action programs, opposes them, once calling them “social engineering;” he has no interest in civil rights legislation, instead insisting that the Constitution should be “color-blind” and the courts should stay out of such matters. Civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental groups are, in Dean’s words, “terrified” of Thomas’s nomination. To overcome these obstacles, the Bush administration decides on a strategy Dean calls “crude but effective… us[ing] Thomas’s color as a wedge with the civil rights community, because he would pick up some blacks’ support notwithstanding his dismal record in protecting their civil rights. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] The nomination of an African-American quells some of the planned resistance to a conservative nominee promised by a number of civil rights organizations. [New York Times, 7/2/1991] Three months later, Thomas will be named to the court after a bitterly contentious brace of confirmation hearings (see October 13, 1991).

Entity Tags: Orrin Hatch, US Supreme Court, Lee Liberman, Robert Bork, John Dean, Thurgood Marshall, David Souter, American Bar Association, Bush administration (41), Antonin Scalia, George Herbert Walker Bush, Clayland Boyden Gray, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Clarence Thomas.Clarence Thomas. [Source: AP / World Wide Photos]The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas begin (see July 2-August 28, 1991). Thomas is exhaustively coached by a team headed by former senator John Danforth (R-MO), whom Thomas had worked for when Danforth was attorney general of Missouri. As per his coaching, Thomas says as little as possible in response to senators’ questions, staying with generalities and being as congenial, diffident, and bland as the questions will allow. Still, some of his statements defy belief.
Abortion Rights - Thomas is well-known as an ardent opponent of abortion rights, but he claims in testimony that he has no position on the fundamental abortion case of Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), even though he has disparaged the case in his own legal writings. He even claims not to have discussed the case with anyone. His sympathetic biographer Andrew Peyton Thomas (no relation) later admits that “these representations about Roe proved a laughingstock.” Even conservative stalwart Paul Weyrich, who is running a “war room” to counter any negative statements about Thomas in the press or in the hearings, says publicly that Thomas has spoken of the case in discussions between the two, and calls Thomas’s dissembling “disingenuous” and “nauseating.” Weyrich considers, and rejects, withdrawing his support for Thomas.
Comparison with Rehnquist Hearings - Author and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “[I]t was clear that Thomas was going the route that [Supreme Court Justice William] Rehnquist had traveled” (see September 26, 1986): “Say anything that was necessary to win confirmation, regardless of the conspicuousness of the lie. Regrettably, it would get worse.” The Senate Judiciary Committee splits on sending Thomas’s name to the full Senate, 7-7, therefore making no recommendation either way. But head counts show that Thomas has a narrow but solid majority of senators ready to vote him onto the bench. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, Paul Weyrich, Andrew Peyton Thomas, Clarence Thomas, John C. Danforth, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The conservative supporters of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) ferociously respond to charges of sexual harassment against Thomas (see October 8, 1991 and October 11-12, 1991) by former employee Anita Hill. According to David Brock, a right-wing reporter who will write a scathing “biography” of Hill after the hearings, Thomas’s supporters quickly devise a strategy to counter the charges. They decide to portray the entire affair as a conspiracy by liberals to besmirch Thomas in order to keep a conservative off the Court. A team of Federalist Society lawyers works feverishly to find, or concoct, evidence to discredit Hill. One of the most effective counters comes from a story which Hill related to the committee, that Thomas had once turned to her and asked, “Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?” Federalist Society member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is told by a staff member that a similar scene involving pubic hair and a glass of gin appears in the novel The Exorcist, and accuses Hill of lifting the scene from the novel and retelling it for her story of harassment. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] Hatch also accuses Hill of working with “slick lawyers” in a conspiracy to destroy Thomas’s nomination. Thomas supports that view; when asked if he believed Hill fabricated her story, Thomas replies, “Some interest groups came up with this story, and this story was developed specifically to destroy me.” [Time, 10/21/1991] Fellow committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA) excoriates Hill in a long and brutal round of questioning, at one point accusing her of perjury. He even submits a psuedo-psychological analysis of Hill to the committee that portrays her as imagining the events she is testifying towards. Committee member Alan Simpson (R-WY) suggests that he has damaging information about Hill’s own sexual proclivities, although he never provides that material for examination. Four witnesses testify to the accuracy of Hill’s charges; a string of character witnesses testify on behalf of Thomas. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] One of them testifies that he believes Hill was “unstable” and indulged in romantic fantasies about him. [Time, 10/21/1991] Democratic chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other committee Democrats do virtually nothing to defend Hill. Not only do they allow their Republican colleagues to “savage her,” in Dean’s words, but they refuse to release evidence they have compiled that supports Hill’s charges, including records of Thomas’s regular purchase of pornography and the statements of numerous other witnesses who have given statements in support of Hill, two even stating that they were also harassed by Thomas. They also fail to tell the committee that Hill has passed a polygraph test about her allegations. [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Orrin Hatch, Senate Judiciary Committee, David Brock, Anita Hill, Arlen Specter, Clarence Thomas, Alan Simpson, Federalist Society

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Following an adverse ruling in an appeals court, Inslaw files an appeal for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. If the writ were granted, it would mean the Supreme Court agreed to hear a further appeal in the case. The appeals court had reversed bankruptcy and district court rulings favorable to Inslaw in its dispute with the Justice Department over the enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987, November 22, 1989, and May 7, 1991). The application will be denied (see January 13, 1992). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Clarence Thomas defends himself against Anita Hill’s allegations.Clarence Thomas defends himself against Anita Hill’s allegations. [Source: MSNBC]Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) responds to charges of sexual harassment from a former employee, law professor Anita Hill (see October 8, 1991). Thomas denies the charges, calling them a “travesty” and “disgusting,” and says that “this hearing should never occur in America.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] “This is not American; this is Kafkaesque. It has got to stop. It must stop for the benefit of future nominees and our country. Enough is enough.” [Time, 10/21/1991] He accuses the committee of concocting the story out of whole cloth, and says: “The Supreme Court is not worth it. No job is worth it. I’m not here for that.…This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] “No job is worth what I’ve been through—no job. No horror in my life has been so debilitating. Confirm me if you want. Don’t confirm me if you are so led.… I will not provide the rope for my own lynching. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private.” Some observers wonder if Thomas is preparing to withdraw his nomination. But, though he says, “I would have preferred an assassin’s bullet to this kind of living hell,” he insists he would “rather die than withdraw.” [Time, 10/21/1991] While Thomas’s denials, and counter-charges of racism, are powerful, and make a tremendous impression on reporters, there are several fundamental flaws with his statement. The denial was not, as characterized by the press, a spontaneous outpouring of outraged innocence, but a carefully written and rehearsed performance, coached by his Republican handlers. And though he responds dramatically to Hill’s charges, he admits in the hearings that he never actually watched her testimony; his wife watched portions of it and reported back to Thomas. Though he denies Hill’s allegations that he asked her out for dates several times, and initially denies ever having any contact with her outside of work, he admits later in the hearings that he drove her home several times and stayed to discuss politics over “a Coke or a beer.” He admits that on “several instances” he visited her home outside of work entirely. Finally, the evidence gathered by the committee, and by researchers after Thomas’s ascension to the Court, overwhelmingly supports Hill’s allegations. Thomas never presents a shred of evidence to refute her charges. [Time, 10/21/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court.Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court. [Source: PBS]The full Senate votes to confirm Clarence Thomas (see July 2-August 28, 1991, October 8, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991) on a 52-48 vote, the lowest margin of victory by any Supreme Court nominee in US history. It is possible that some senators’ votes are influenced by a wash of “fast-action” polls reported by the White House, purporting to show that African-Americans overwhelmingly support Thomas, and a majority of citizens support Thomas’s confirmation. A year later, analysis proves those polls to be completely wrong. [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153] In 1992, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will say: “That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas. It was not about Anita Hill. It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minoritites and the majority.” [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (41), Clarence Thomas, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court denies an application for a writ of certiorari made by Inslaw, meaning that the court will not hear its case. The application had been filed the previous year (see October 9, 1991), as Inslaw wanted to overturn an adverse ruling by an appeals court in its dispute with the Justice Department over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see May 7, 1991). [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Inslaw, Inc., US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

The US Supreme Court reaffirms the Ker-Frisbie doctrine, which states that a US court will not concern itself over how a suspect came to stand before it for trial. The reaffirmation is part of a ruling on the case of Humberto Alvarez-Machain, a Mexican doctor allegedly involved in the kidnap and murder of a DEA agent who was rendered from Mexico by US agents without Mexico’s consent under the extradition treaty with the US (see April 1990). The Ker-Frisbie doctrine reaches back to the 19th century and states that US courts have jurisdiction over a criminal defendant regardless of the means by which that defendant was brought before the court, as a breach of general international law principles does not generally affect the jurisdiction of a domestic court. [US House of Representatives, 7/24/1992] However, Alvarez-Machain will be acquitted later by a lower court on the facts of the actual charges. [Grey, 2007, pp. 135]

Entity Tags: Humberto Alvarez-Machain, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court upholds its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling (see January 22, 1973), and forbids states from banning abortions. However, by a 7-2 vote, the Court says states may raise new obstacles for women seeking to end their pregnancies. [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

In the case of Shaw v. Reno, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that white residents in majority-black electoral districts can file lawsuits to challenge the drawing of those districts if they feel “traditional redistricting principles” were subordinated to racial concerns. The Court rules that legislative districts drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see June 29, 1989) cannot consider race any more than is necessary, and must not be “bizarrely shaped.” The case turned on efforts by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) to redistrict the state in an unusually irregular fashion; the plaintiffs brought suit charging that the only possible reason North Carolina could have had in such a redistricting was to segregate races for the purpose of voting. After the 1990 census, North Carolina earned a 12th seat in the US House of Representatives. The NCGA drew up a new map that created a majority-black district, and, after the attorney general objected to the mapping under Section 5 of the VRA, redrew the map to create a second majority-black district. The plaintiffs called the map an example of unlawful gerrymandering. The Court agrees that the redistricting is unlawful gerrymandering, and sends the case back to the NCGA for new mapping. Redistricting can use race as a factor without overtly discriminating against a particular race, the Court finds, but the irregular, “bizarrely shaped” districts created by the NCGA constitute what is, essentially, “political apartheid.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. The dissenters include Justices Harry Blackmun, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, and Byron White. The dissenters claim that the plaintiffs failed to present a legitimate claim because they did not claim a cognizable injury. However, the dissenters note, the gerrymandering of the North Carolina districts is apparent, though “benign,” as it was done to, at least some extent, facilitate the election of black representatives to Congress. In 2012, Casebriefs will observe, “This case involved two of the most complex and sensitive issues the Court has faced in recent years: the meaning of the constitutional ‘right’ to vote and the propriety of race-based state legislation designed to benefit members of historically disadvantaged minority groups.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Casebriefs, 2012; Oyez (.org), 7/21/2012]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, US Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun, Byron White, Voting Rights Act of 1965, North Carolina General Assembly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Perry Hooper.Perry Hooper. [Source: Shelby County, Alabama Republican Party]The Business Council of Alabama (BCA), an organization made up of state Republicans and business figures, hires political consultant Karl Rove of Texas to help elect a slate of Republican candidates to the Alabama Supreme Court. Alabama’s Supreme Court has been comprised of Democrats for over a century. However, Rove worked to get a slate of Republicans elected to the Texas Supreme Court a few years ago, and the BCA feels he can do the same thing in Alabama. Of the four Republican candidates for the high court, the most important is retired Judge Perry O. Hooper, an icon among Alabama Republicans. He runs against Democratic incumbent Ernest “Sonny” Hornsby. Until now, judicial races in Alabama have been what Atlantic Monthly reporter Joshua Green will later call “low-key affairs,” with almost no campaigning and judicial candidates often just passing the seats from one to the next. Democrats often ran unopposed for the positions.
Statewide Campaign, 'Jackpot Justice' - Rove brings a harsh, confrontational strategy, characterizing Democrats as pawns of trial lawyers and telling voters tales of outrageous verdicts. Rove has Hooper and the other candidates focus on a single case, that of a wealthy Alabama doctor who sued the car manufacturer BMW after discovering that his new car had been damaged by acid rain before delivery and repainted, diminishing its resale value. The trial revealed that BMW had done this many times before, and rewarded the doctor with $4 million in punitive damages. Alabama Republican political consultant Bill Smith, trained by Rove, will later say: “It was the poster-child case of outrageous verdicts. Karl figured out the vocabulary on the BMW case and others like it that point out not just liberal behavior but outrageous decisions that make you mad as hell.” Hooper and the other judicial candidates campaign relentlessly throughout the state, harping on the case as an example of “jackpot justice” perpetuated by “wealthy personal-injury trial lawyers.” (Green will write that Rove coined those phrases and will use them effectively in other races and other areas.) Rove is also successful at convincing conservative Democrats to abandon their traditional support for Democratic candidates and vote for his Republican candidates. Rove also uses targeted, nuanced language to attract conservative voters. His candidates attack “liberal activist judges” and present themselves as “people who will strictly interpret the law and not rewrite it from the bench.” A Rove staffer will later explain that the term “activist judges” motivates all sorts of people for very different reasons. Green writes: “If you’re a religious conservative, he said, it means judges who established abortion rights or who interpret Massachusetts’s equal-protection clause as applying to gays. If you’re a business conservative, it means those who allow exorbitant jury awards. And in Alabama especially, the term conjures up those who forced integration.” The staffer continues, “The attraction of calling yourself a ‘strict constructionist’ [as Rove has his candidates label themselves] is that you can attract business conservatives, social conservatives, and moderates who simply want a reasonable standard of justice.”
'Dialing for Dollars' Television Ad - Rove highlights the fact that the Democratic justices routinely solicit campaign donations from trial lawyers, while downplaying the Republicans’ solicitations from business interests. He airs one particularly damaging “Dialing for Dollars” television ad, depicting a lawyer receiving an unwanted telephone solicitation from an actor portraying Hornsby. The ad implies that Hornsby will intervene on a case the lawyer has pending. The ad draws considerable attention and criticism, and is featured on NBC Nightly News. The campaign has the desired effect, and the race begins to tighten. Rove escalates, filling the airwaves with negative ads in the last two weeks of the campaign.
Recount, False Stories - When the results are tallied from the November 9 election, Hornsby wins the race for chief justice by an unofficial tally of 304 votes. Rove immediately calls for a recount. A former Rove staffer will later say: “Karl called the next morning. He said: ‘We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We’ve got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.‘… Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper’s election and then to undermine the other side’s support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral—all of that.” Rove successfully obtains the recount, and places campaign workers in each of the polling places to observe the counting, harass the election officials, and find evidence of “voter fraud.” Some legitimate errors are uncovered, such as a probate judge in one county erroneously excluding some 100 votes for Hooper, and voting machines in two other counties failing to tally all the votes. Rove spreads false stories throughout the state about poll watchers being threatened with arrest, probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to meet with campaign workers, votes being cast in absentia on behalf of comatose nursing home patients, and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of dead people in order to cast votes for them by absentee ballot. On November 12, Hooper declares in a press conference, “We have endured lies in this campaign, but I’ll be damned if I will accept outright thievery.” By November 21, the unofficial tally has Hornsby ahead by only nine votes.
Absentee Ballots Challenged in Court - Hornsby’s campaign fights to include some 2,000 late-arriving absentee ballots that had been excluded, and the campaign goes public with the claim of a man who says his son, serving overseas in the military, is in danger of having his absentee ballot not counted. A Rove staffer will later say: “The last marching order we had from Karl was: ‘Make sure you continue to talk this up. The only way we’re going to be successful is if the Alabama public continues to care about it.’” Initially, a judge rules that the absentee ballots should be counted, and Hooper and Rove, knowing the absentee ballots will give Hornsby the votes he needs to win, take the case to federal court while Rove shellacks the state with advertisements accusing Hornsby of trying to steal the election. The Hooper campaign files lawsuits against each and every probate judge, circuit clerk, and sheriff in Alabama, alleging discrimination. The Alabama Supreme Court, stocked with Democrats, orders the absentee ballots to be counted, while the federal court continues to consider the matter.
Republican Declared Winner - In October 1995, a federal appeals court rules that the absentee ballots cannot be counted, and orders Alabama to certify Hooper as chief justice. Hornsby’s campaign appeals to the US Supreme Court, but the high court refuses to overturn the verdict. With the absentee ballots discarded, Hooper wins the vote tally by 262 votes. Hooper will later tell a reporter, “That Karl Rove was a very impressive fellow.” [Atlantic Monthly, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Business Council of Alabama, Bill Smith, Alabama Supreme Court, Perry O. Hooper, Joshua Green, Karl C. Rove, Texas Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, Ernest (“Sonny”) Hornsby

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Walter Smith convenes a sentencing hearing for the Branch Davidians convicted of crimes in regards to the Waco siege that resulted in the death of scores of their companions (see January-February 1994). Defendant Ruth Riddle, facing deportation to Canada for overstaying her visa, is brought back to Texas for sentencing on her immigration violation; Riddle and six other defendants face sentencing for similar charges. In all, nine defendants receive jail sentences. During “allocution,” some argue that the court has no jurisdiction, and that Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton should have been witnesses. Others deny any guilt. One defendant, Livingston Fagan (see March 23-24, 1993), tells the court that he and his fellow defendants are all innocent. Fagan, “probably the only Branch Davidian with any formal theological training,” says he still considers himself a devotee of Davidian leader David Koresh, and says everything the Davidians did during the siege was justified by the harsh and aggressive actions taken by federal agents. “Right from the beginning, the spiritual aspect of this was totally and absolutely rejected,” he says. “But it was the very core of why we were at Mt. Carmel, and essentially, why we acted the way that we acted.” Defense lawyers argue that their clients are being forced to answer for crimes committed by Koresh and other Davidian leaders who are dead and cannot face justice themselves. Prosecutors argue that the theology as avowed by the Davidians shows a propensity towards violence, and ask the judge to give each defendant the maximum sentence. Smith, though the jury had not convicted the defendants of conspiracy to kill federal agents, holds the defendants responsible for the deaths of four agents nonetheless (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). He says the Davidians had assembled an “armory” of weapons “to rival that of a National Guard unit’s,” as well as a huge stockpile of ammunition and paramilitary gear, and that the Davidians had fortified the compound. He accuses Koresh of inciting his followers through his sermons and teachings to resist the authorities up to the point of death. Five Davidians, including Fagan, receive sentences of 40 years for carrying firearms while committing violent crimes. Another defendant, Paul Fatta, receives 15 years for firearms offenses. Defendant Graeme Craddock, who cooperated to an extent with authorities, receives 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for carrying firearms during the commission of a violent crime. Riddle is given a five-year sentence; Katherine Schroeder, who testified for the prosecution, receives three years in jail. Later in the month, jury foreperson Sara Bain will say that Smith went much farther in his sentencing than the jury had intended. “They [the sentences] certainly didn’t reflect the jury’s intention at all,” she will say. “We had thought that the weapons charges would be a slap on the wrist.… I wish everyone had just been acquitted on all charges.… The federal government was absolutely out of control there. We spoke in the jury room about the fact that the wrong people were on trial, that it should have been the ones that planned the raid and orchestrated it and insisted on carrying out this plan who should have been on trial.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 2000, the Supreme Court will rule that many of the more lengthy sentences are improper (see June 5, 2000).

Entity Tags: Ruth Riddle, Graeme Leonard Craddock, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, Kathryn Schroeder, Walter Smith, Livingstone Fagan, Paul Gordon Fatta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Sara Bain, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The US Supreme Court adds further restrictions to the electoral district mapping procedures adopted in the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see June 29, 1989). In the case of Miller v. Johnson, the Court rules that Georgia’s majority-black 11th Congressional District is unconstitutional because race was the “predominant factor” in drawing district lines, and that Georgia “subordinated” its traditional redistricting principle to race without a compelling reason (see June 28, 1993). Race, the Court rules, can no longer be a “predominant factor” in crafting electoral districts. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a military budget that includes a section requiring the Pentagon to discharge all HIV-positive soldiers, regardless of their overall health. When President Clinton signs the bill, he issues a signing statement declaring he has “concluded that this discriminatory provision is unconstitutional.” He urges Congress to repeal the statute, and says he will refuse to allow the Justice Department to defend the law in court if an HIV-positive soldier sues the government. However, Clinton’s legal team, including the Justice Department’s head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Walter Dellinger, and White House counsel Jack Quinn, tells reporters that while Clinton believes the provision is unconstitutional, he cannot refuse to enforce it because no court ruling has supported his view. Until a court intervenes, the president is bound by Congress’s decision. “When the president’s obligation to execute laws enacted by Congress is in tension with his responsibility to act in accordance to the Constitution, questions arise that really go to the very heart of the system, and the president can decline to comply with the law, in our view, only where there is a judgment that the Supreme Court has resolved the issue.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Quinn, Walter Dellinger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules in the case of Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Committee. The case originated with advertisements run by the Colorado Republican Party (CRP) in 1986 attacking the Colorado Democratic Party’s likely US Senate candidate. Neither party had yet selected its candidate for that position. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) sued the CRP’s Federal Campaign Committee, saying that its actions violated the “party expenditure provision” of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) by spending more than the law allows. The CRP in turn claimed that FECA violated its freedom of speech, and filed a counterclaim. A Colorado court ruled in favor of the CRP, dismissing the counterclaim as moot, but an appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court rules 7-2 in favor of the FEC. The decision is unusual, lacking a clear majority, but being comprised of a “plurality” of concurrences. The majority opinion, such as it is, is authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court liberals, and is joined by fellow liberal David Souter and conservative Sandra Day O’Connor. Conservatives Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, and Antonin Scalia go farther than Breyer’s majority decision, writing that the provision violates the First Amendment when it restricts as a “contribution” a political party’s spending “in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with a candidate.” In yet another concurrence, conservative Clarence Thomas argues that the entire provision is flatly unconstitutional. Liberals John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent, agreeing with the appeals court. [Oyez (.org), 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] In 2001, the Court will revisit the case and find its initial ruling generally sound, though the later decision will find that some spending restrictions are constitutional. In the revisiting, four of the Court’s five conservatives will dissent, with the liberals joined by O’Connor. [Oyez (.org), 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: Colorado Republican Party, Colorado Democratic Party, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, David Souter, Colorado Republican Party Federal Campaign Committee, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court rules that anti-abortion demonstrators have the right under the First Amendment to confront pregnant women outside health clinics and “strongly urge” them not to have abortions. The decision casts doubt on an array of city ordinances and judicial orders barring protesters from confronting doctors, nurses, and patients outside clinics. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, rules that there is no “generalized right to be left alone on a public street or sidewalk.” Rather, picketing, leafleting, and loud protesting “are classic forms of speech that lie at the heart of the First Amendment.” The Court affirms that protesters have no right to physically accost or interfere with clients or providers, nor may they trespass on clinic property. They do have the right to shout and chant on public property such as sidewalks. The ruling also reaffirms a 1994 decision that created protest-free zones, sometimes called “fixed bufffer zones,” at the doors and driveways of health clinics. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/1997]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Without comment, the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeals of six Branch Davidians convicted of an array of crimes (see January-February 1994) surrounding the February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the subsequent assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). An appeals court ordered that four Davidians given 30-year sentences for the use of firearms during a violent crime, and a fifth given a 10-year sentence, must be set aside and new sentences given; the appeals court said those sentences could only be reinstated if the lower court found that the four not only had the guns but “actively employed” them during the February 1993 raid. Lawyer Steven Rosen, who represents defendant Kevin A. Whitecliff, says he expects the sentences to be reinstated and the appeals process to start over again. [Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] In 2000, the Court will overturn the sentences (see June 5, 2000).

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The US Supreme Court follows up on a 1976 ruling (see March 30, 1976) by finding that electoral redistricting plans can indeed be drawn with racial discrimination in mind, as long as the redistricting does not make conditions worse for minority voters (retrogression). In the case of Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board, the Court rules 5-4 that even if the redistricting violates the Constitution or Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see June 29, 1989), the government can give permission for the redistricting to take place (“preclear”) as long as the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choice is not weakened. The Court is split along ideological lines, with the majority opinion written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and joined by his fellow conservatives. Scalia writes, “As we have repeatedly noted, in vote-dilution cases [Section 5] prevents nothing but backsliding, and preclearance under [Section 5] affirms nothing but the absence of backsliding.” The four liberals and moderates on the court dissent. Justice David Souter writes, “Now executive and judicial officers of the United States will be forced to preclear illegal and unconstitutional voting schemes patently intended to perpetuate discrimination.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2012; Oyez (.org), 2012] A 2006 law will invalidate this ruling (see July 27, 2006).

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, Antonin Scalia, US Supreme Court, David Souter

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Disbarred lawyer and convicted Watergate figure Charles Colson (see June 1974), now the head of the Christian Prison Fellowship ministry, writes that “the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions.” Colson, a traditional social conservative, makes this startling claim in an op-ed about the recent Boerne v. Flores decision of the Court, in which the Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as an unconstitutional encroachment on the fundamental concept of the separation of church and state. Colson writes that the decision has “precipitat[ed] what may be the greatest constitutional crisis of our age.” Colson, a supporter of the RFRA, says the striking down of the act makes “religious liberties… once again vulnerable.” The overarching question Colson raises is whether the Supreme Court is the final judicial arbiter of the Constitution. Colson gives a blunt answer: “Contrary to what most Americans think, the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court final say on constitutional questions. And the Founders resisted the idea.” Colson cites the landmark 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the Court, he says, took up the power of judicial review, then gives three examples of presidents defying Court orders. However, fellow convicted Watergate figure John Dean, a former White House counsel, refutes Colson’s arguments. In 2006, Dean will write that “Colson, like [televangelist Pat] Robertson and others on the religious right, is seeking, in effect, to nullify Supreme Court decisions of which he does not approve.” Dean will note that although Colson has long since lost his license to practice law, he is considered a scholar of some importance by his conservative contemporaries, and therefore has some influence.
'Marbury' and Judicial Review - Dean notes that Colson’s interpretation of the bedrock Marbury case is wrong. Judicial review by federal courts of Congressional legislation was a long-established principle by the time the Court issued its ruling. Even before the Constitutional Conventions, state courts had routinely overturned state legislative acts. The assumption of most during the debates over the contents of the Constitution was that federal courts, and most specifically the Supreme Court, would have similar power over federal legislation.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien Imposition Act - Colson writes that “Thomas Jefferson refused to execute the Alien Imposition Act.” Colson is wrong: there was never such an act. Dean writes, “If Colson is referring to the infamous Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, it had nothing to do with a court order, and the example is therefore very misleading.” Jefferson’s predecessor, John Adams, enforced the law, which Jefferson considered unconstitutional. Jefferson pardoned those convicted of sedition under the statute when he gained the presidency. He never “refused to execute” it because it expired the day before he was inaugurated, March 4, 1801.
Andrew Jackson and the Bank of the United States - Colson writes that Andrew Jackson “spurned a Court order in a banking case.” Again, as Dean notes, the citation is misleading. Dean believes Colson is referring to Jackson’s 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. The Court had not issued an opinion on the rechartering of a federal bank, so Jackson did not defy a Court order.
Abraham Lincoln and the 'Dred Scott' Decision - Colson concludes his historical argument by saying that Abraham Lincoln “rejected the Dred Scott decision. Lincoln even asked Congress to overrule the Court—which it did, passing a law that reversed Dred Scott (1862).” Dean calls Colson’s argument “a stunning summation, not to mention distortion, of history.” The infamous 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision found that slaves were neither citizens nor persons under the Constitution, that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories, and that the Declaration of Independence’s statement that “all men are created equal” applied only to white men. Lincoln argued passionately against the decision during his 1858 debates with his Senate opponent, Stephen Douglas, and swore that he would seek to reverse the decision. But, as Dean will note, “Seeking reversal is not defiance of the law.” Lincoln did defy the Court in 1861 by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and explained his unprecedented action to Congress by arguing that he did so to save the Union from dissolution. Dred Scott was overturned, not by Congressional legislation, but by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
The Danger Inherent in Colson's Arguments - Dean will note: “Colson’s baseless arguments are unfortunately typical of those that authoritarian conservatives insist on making, using facts that are irrelevant or misleading, if not demonstrably wrong. The self-righteousness of authoritarians [such as] Colson and Pat Robertson… has become so pronounced that at times it seems as if they believe themselves actually to be speaking ex cathedra [a sardonic reference to the infallibility of the Pope]. Their contention that the president of the United States is not bound by rulings of the Supreme Court, or, for that matter, by the laws of Congress, when these rulings or laws relate to the functions of the presidency, has gained increasing currency with authoritarian conservatives, both leaders and followers.” Such acceptance “is truly frightening in its implications.” [Christianity Today, 10/6/1997; Dean, 2006, pp. 111-115; Catholic Encyclopedia, 2008]

Entity Tags: Charles Colson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Pat Robertson, US Supreme Court, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court refuses to hear an appeal of Timothy McVeigh’s conviction for bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City and killing eight federal agents (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997). [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Fox News, 4/13/2005]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Supreme Court unanimously overturns the lengthy prison sentences given to five Branch Davidians for using machine guns during a February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and January-February 1994). Writing for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer says a Texas federal judge should not have used a federal firearm law to increase the convicted Davidians’ sentences, but instead let the jury make that decision. The ruling sends the case back to the judge for a new sentencing. [Reuters, 6/5/2000] A judge will reduce the 40-year sentences to 15 years. [Associated Press, 4/19/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Shortly after the presidential vote that resulted in an as-yet-unresolved flurry of recounts and criticisms (see 6:36 p.m. November 15, 2000 and 9:14 p.m., November 15, 2000), two law clerks at the US Supreme Court laugh about the unlikely possibility that the election will end up being resolved in the Court. Could it happen that way? they wonder. And if so, would the Court split 5-4 along ideological lines, with the conservative majority giving Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) the presidency? The idea is preposterous, they decide, no matter what some of their friends and relatives are predicting. Even the most conservative of Court justices, they say, are pragmatic and mindful of the law. Moreover, they tell one another, the Court has always steered clear of sticky political conflicts. And the conservative justices are the most mindful of states’ rights and most devoted to the concept of the Constitution’s “original intent,” including the Founders’ insistance that Congress, not the judiciary, should be the body to resolve close elections. One clerk later tells reporters: “It was just inconceivable to us that the Court would want to lose its credibility in such a patently political way. That would be the end of the Court.” As November moves closer to December and the election fracas continues unresolved, a law professor predicts that Bush’s chances before the Court are “between slim and none, and a lot closer to none.” Over Thanksgiving, the justices and clerks leave Washington for vacation, with only a skeletal staff of a few clerks remaining in town in case of emergencies. Justice Stephen Breyer says over the holiday that there is no way the Court would ever get involved in the election. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

The Bush presidential campaign files a petition in the US Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that Florida can continue manual recounts, and that those new recount tallies be included in the final election results (see November 20-21, 2000). Bush lawyers argue that the Supreme Court effectively rewrote Florida election law in mandating the recount tallies be counted, by essentially changing the law after the election had occurred; they also argue that Florida judges have no jurisdiction or legal authoritiy to order Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After) to consider manually recounted votes. Both arguments are considered somewhat abstruse and technical. The Bush campaign also claims, with little legal backing, that to recount the votes violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Gore lawyers say that the matter is up to the state courts, and is not a federal matter warranting the involvement of the US Supreme Court. The Court agrees to hear the case, and sets the hearing date for December 1, 2000. [Supreme Court of the United States, 11/22/2000 pdf file; Certiorari Granted, 11/24/2000 pdf file; Guardian, 11/25/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/17/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] “We believe we stand on both strong political and legal ground for fighting beyond Sunday,” says Gore campaign adviser Ron Klain. After the Court agrees to hear the case, Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team, says she is ready to certify the election for George W. Bush tomorrow night regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court hearing. “The Department of State is prepared for the earliest contingency, which would be certification Sunday evening,” her chief of staff Ben McKay says. “This will be done publicly regardless of the outcome, which is, of course, unknown at this time.” [Guardian, 11/25/2000] Many Court observers, and some of the justices themselves, are surprised that the case is being heard. The Bush petition for certiorari, or for the Court to take the case, comes to Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose task it is to consider emergency motions from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Kennedy pushes his colleagues to take the case, arguing that the Court is the true and ultimate arbiter of such matters, though he concedes that the Bush petition is legally questionable. The Court’s conservative bloc—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O’Connor (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000), and Chief Justice William Rehnquist—agree to hear the case. (Court rules mandate that the consent of four justices, not a majority, is enough to hear a case.) The case is to be expedited in a way far different from the usual sedately paced Court proceedings. The sudden urgency has Court clerks scrambling to change their Thanksgiving plans and contacting the justices they work for. The clerks for the four liberal justices, David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer, are dismayed by the entire situation. “We changed our minds every five minutes about whether the fix was in,” one clerk later recalls. The liberal clerks find it almost impossible to believe that any Court justice would consider interceding in what is by constitutional definition an executive and legislative matter. Justice Stevens is not convinced of his conservative colleagues’ restraint, and begins drafting a dissent from what he fears will be a majority opinion granting Bush the election. The early draft focuses on the reasons why the Court should have never accepted the case. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Florida Supreme Court, David Souter, Ben McKay, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ron Klain, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Katherine Harris, George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Gore campaign lawyers ask the US Supreme Court to deny a Bush campaign request to not count manually-recounted presidential ballots, calling the request a “bald attempt to federalize a state court dispute.” The next day, the Court will agree to hear the Bush petition (see November 22-24, 2000). [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, US Supreme Court, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

The clerks for the four liberal justices at the Supreme Court—John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—continue their speculation as to whether the Court will actually attempt to decide the presidential election ((see November 20-21, 2000 and November 22-24, 2000), especially in light of Florida’s recent attempt to certify George W. Bush as the winner (see 7:30 p.m. November 26, 2000). At a November 29 dinner attended by clerks from several justices, a clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor tells the group that O’Connor is determined to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to go ahead with manual recounts of election ballots (see 3:00 p.m., November 16, 2000). One clerk recalls the O’Connor clerk saying, “she thought the Florida court was trying to steal the election and that they had to stop it.” O’Connor has the reputation of deciding an issue on her “gut,” then finding legal justifications for supporting her decision. Unbeknownst to anyone outside the Court, O’Connor has already made up her mind. Gore lawyers in particular will spend endless hours trying to craft arguments to sway her vote, when the actual case will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who originally wanted to accept the case. Many clerks of both liberal and conservative justices have little respect or regard for Kennedy. They consider him, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “pompous and grandiloquent.” They believe he fills his office with elaborate, expensive decorations and trappings, including an elaborate chandelier, to give the idea of his power and importance. “The clerks saw his public persona—the very public way in which he boasted of often agonizing over decisions—as a kind of shtick, a very conspicuous attempt to exude fairness and appear moderate, even when he’d already made up his mind,” according to the Vanity Fair article. Conservative clerks suspect Kennedy of untoward liberal leanings, and have taken steps to ensure that the clerks he receives are ideologically sound. One liberal clerk later explains the conservative justices’ reasoning, saying, “The premise is that he can’t think by himself, and that he can be manipulated by someone in his second year of law school.” By now, Kennedy is surrounded by clerks from the hard-right Federalist Society. “He had four very conservative, Federalist Society white guys, and if you look at the portraits of law clerks on his wall, that’s true nine times out of 10,” another liberal law clerk will recall. “They were by far the least diverse group of clerks.” The conservative and liberal clerks do not socialize with one another as a rule, so it is unusual when, a day after the clerk dinner, Kevin Martin, a clerk for conservative justice Antonin Scalia, visits Stevens’s chambers. Martin went to Columbia Law School with Stevens’s clerk Anne Voigts, and he wants to see if he can explain to her the conservatives’ judicial point of view. However, two other Stevens clerks, Eduardo Penalver and Andrew Siegel, believe Martin is on some sort of reconnaissance mission, attempting to find out what grounds Stevens will cite to argue against overturning the Florida decision. Penalver and Siegel believe Martin is trying to manipulate Voigts, and Martin, after telling them to “F_ck off!” storms out of Stevens’s chambers. Clerks from O’Connor’s staff pay similar visits to other liberal justices, though these conversations do not end so contentiously. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] O’Connor said to partygoers when the news networks announced the election for Al Gore, “This is terrible” (see After 7:50 p.m. November 7, 2000).

Entity Tags: Eduardo Penalver, Anthony Kennedy, Anne Voigts, Andrew Siegel, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., David Souter, US Supreme Court, Vanity Fair, Sandra Day O’Connor, George W. Bush, Florida Supreme Court, Federalist Society, Antonin Scalia, Kevin Martin, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

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