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New York Times v. Sullivan

New York Times v. Sullivan

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) is a significant United States Supreme Court case which held that the court must find evidence of actual malice before it can hold the press guilty for defamation and libel against a public figure. This was a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding freedom of the press.

New York Times v. Sullivan established the actual malice standard which requires the plaintiff to prove that the publisher was aware that the statement was false and published it anyway. This places a very high burden of proof on the plaintiff in a libel cases. The concept of public figures is important in freedom of the press cases. A public figure is a person that puts themselves in the eye of the public, such as a politician or celebrity. These individuals have the burden of proof in defamation and libel cases.

This was a very controversial issue at the time because of the highly publicized civil rights cases in the South, where many Southerners continued to practice segregation. News organizations that desired to run these stories were often hesitant due to fear that they would be dragged into a libel suit. When the Supreme Court held in New York Times v. Sullivan that the Times was not guilty of libel, it opened up many opportunities for news sources to print stories about the civil rights cases in the South. In 1960, the New York Times ran an advertisement about Martin Luther King that contained inaccuracies about the conduct of the Montgomery, Alabama police department.

The newspaper alleged that the police department took unlawful action against civil rights protesters. The Montgomery Police Commissioner, L. B. Sullivan wrote a letter to the New York Times demanding they run a retraction of the story. When the Times refused, Sullivan brought suit against the newspaper and received damages. The Times still did not publish a retraction because they claimed the advertisement did not specifically name Sullivan and was not a condemnation of his conduct.

In New York Times v. Sullivan, the United States Supreme Court held that the actions of the New York Times were not sufficient for a libel suit. The New York Times was protected under the freedom of the press clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. The Court ruled under the actual malice standard. This would require Sullivan to prove that the New York Times knew the statements against him were untrue and acted recklessly
through a conscious lack of investigation by publishing them.

The Supreme Court determined that the Alabama State court’s award of punitive damages to Sullivan was not appropriate due to the Times’ Constitutional right to freedom of the
press. New York Times v. Sullivan was the first time that the Court used the concept of actual malice in the freedom of the press case. The actual malice standard requires the
plaintiff to prove that the plaintiff had knowledge of the untruth of the statements published, rather than the plaintiff having to prove the truth of the statements.

Northern Securities Co v. United States

Northern Securities Co v. United States

The ruling of Northern Securities Co. v. the United States was an important judicial decision regarding antitrust law. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the decision for this case.

In Northern Securities v. the United States, the Supreme Court held that the Northern Securities Company was operating as a monopoly and ruled to dissolve it. This decision strengthened the power of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and broadened the interpretation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

The purpose of the Sherman Act is to limit the use of monopolies, which hinder competition between companies.
Prior to this ruling, which occurred under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, many politicians were hesitant to enforce this law. The Northern Securities Co. v. the United States decision was the first significant application of this Act.

The Northern Securities Company was a trust formed in 1902 by E. H. Harriman, James Hill, J. P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, that owned and operated several of the major railways in the United States. Before this the company was created, Hill, who was in control of the Great Northern Railway, and Harriman, who owned the Northern Pacific Railway, battled to gain control of the Burlington line that would allow each of their rails accesses to Chicago, Illinois.

Hill and Harriman waged a war to buy out the most shares of the Burlington Railroad’s stock and, as a result, ended up significantly increasing the purchase price of railroad stock. As a means to resolve the conflict, the men formed the Northern Securities Company as a monopoly that controlled the Great Northern Railway, the Northern Pacific Railway, the Burlington Railroad, and several others. Once the public became aware of the
monopoly, a plan by President Roosevelt followed quickly to file suit against the Northern Securities Company.

The Court held that the existence of the Northern Securities The company eliminated the competition between the companies that formed it and, consequently, eliminating the ability of other similar companies to compete with the monopoly. The Court found that the formation of this company was in fact intended to eliminate competition and it was, therefore, ordered to dissolve. The Court was operating based on the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Commerce Clause states that Congress has the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States…”. This is what gives the Supreme Court power to dissolve any company that they determine to be a monopoly. The Supreme Court Justices found that the actions of the company were unreasonable enough that it constituted a monopoly. Congress applied a broad interpretation of the Commerce A clause in the Northern Securities Co. v. the United States decision.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first politician to strictly enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust
Act and gave others the ability to do so. After this decision, several other cases appeared before the Supreme Court that was similar in circumstances. The Northern Securities case formed a precedent, and these cases were given similar rulings.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy v. Ferguson is one of the most important Supreme Court cases, in which the Court held that racial segregation is constitutional under the “Separate but Equal” Doctrine. Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the Court’s opinion, which was voted on 7 to 1.

The Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1865, states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”. It goes on to say that Congress has the power to enforce legislation that will prohibit the use of slavery. After the phase of Reconstruction came to an end and the Federal troops were withdrawn from the South, a series of laws known as the Jim Crow laws were put into effect by southern states.

The Jim Crow laws claimed a “separate but equal” quality for black Americans, but in actuality, blacks were treated unfairly and unequally. Public places, such as schools,
restrooms, and methods of transportation, were kept segregated by “whites
only” and “blacks only” sections. Although the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, many people, especially Southerners, believed that former slaves were still not considered citizens, and therefore, not guaranteed all the same legal rights as whites.

Congress responded by enacting the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”. The Equal Protection Clause of this Amendment requires the State to provide equal rights and protection to all people residing within that State. Despite the Equal Protection Clause, the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 held that the Fourteenth Amendment restricts only the actions of the Government and not the acts of individuals or private entities.

Therefore, the South continued to pass laws that kept whites and blacks separated.
In 1890, the State of Louisiana passed a law that required blacks to use separate railway cars that were supposedly equal to those of whites. A group of African Americans in New
Orleans formed an association called The Citizens’ Committee to Test the Separate Car Act. This group hired a well-known attorney, Albion Tourgee, and staged an act of civil disobedience where Homer Plessy agreed to violate the Separate the Cars Act and be arrested. The Committee carefully staged the event. Homer Plessy was a light-skinned individual who was of African ancestry.

Plessy purchased a railroad ticket for a “whites only” car and was then arrested when he announced on the train car that he was one-eighth black and refused to move to the black car. Plessy sued the State of Louisiana by claiming that the rights that were guaranteed to him by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated. The decision of Judge Ferguson was that the State had the right to enforce racial segregation in railroad cars. On appeal, this decision was once again upheld. The Committee appealed again to the United States Supreme Court in 1896.

The Supreme Court also upheld the ruling that entitled the State of Louisiana to engage in racial segregation. The Court did not find that the State had violated the Fourteenth
Amendment and was not technically treating the races differently, but just keeping them separate. However, in reality, most of the public places that were designed for blacks were greatly inferior to those designed for whites. Plessy was forced to plead guilty to the violation and pay a minor fine and the public facilities remained separated.

The decision in Plessy v. Ferguson further promoted the racial segregation in the South. States were permitted to enforce the Separate but Equal Doctrine in public places. Separate but equal is based on the premise that the facilities are kept in equal condition. However, this was not generally the case. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision began affecting public institutions immediately.

Funding for educational institutions was far less for African Americans. States that had initially not participated in racial segregation began passing this legislation, and much of
the progress made during Reconstruction was reversed. The Separate but Equal law stood until it was finally reversed in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Major Decisions-McCulloch v. Maryland

Major Decisions-McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland proved to be an extremely important Supreme Court case that would impact how the laws and the Constitution of the United States would be applied in a functional and effective manner. McCulloch v. Maryland would establish certain principles for interpretation of Constitutional law, specifically dealing with the powers of Congress.

McCulloch v. Maryland would inadvertently become a fundamental case in Supreme Court decisions based on the State of Maryland imposing a tax on the Second Bank of the United States, which was established with the support and backing of Congress. The reason that Congress would establish a national bank would be to control how State banks were to issue currency, which was unregulated at the time it was established.

The states were in opposition to the decision and Maryland would be the first to show its discomfort by levying a tax on all the banks within the State that were not chartered by State legislation. James McCulloch was the presiding official over the Second Bank of the United States in Maryland and refused to pay the tax. What would ensue would have an impact on all judicial and Constitutional matters in the United States after the case was decided.

Originally, the case was heard by the State of Maryland courts and rendered a decision in favor of the State. The decision was reached based upon the determination that the Constitution did not implicitly provide for any provisions regarding banks in the United States, and thus, such powers should be delegated to State to control. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice John Marshall was presiding.

After hearing the case, Marshall would establish the United States Constitution as the supreme rule of the nation. Furthermore, Marshall would also refer to the Constitution to provide for the fact that even though the term “bank” is never explicitly referenced in the document, there are certain provisions in the Taxing and Spending Clause that would provide for implied powers to Congress to establish such a bank.

The establishing of a bank would be a means to implement the expressly given powers to Congress, thus within the realm of Constitutionality. The Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution would be invoked to further support this determination and would find that Congress could enact such a practice as long as it did not violate other Constitutional standards and within the realm of Congress’ limits.

Two major principles would be derived from Marshall’s decision in favor of McCulloch. Firstly, the Congress of the United States is granted certain implied powers by the Constitution that are implemented in order to ensure the proper function of the Federal Government. The other major outcome was that the States cannot impose on the powers granted by the Constitution to the Federal Government by any action, such as levying a bank tax on a national bank.

Aside from establishing implied powers of Congress as a legitimate practice, it is the bank tax levied by Maryland that would further make the decision more important, which would prove for the limit on the states’ power over Federal Government. Furthermore, Marshall would declare the Maryland bank tax unconstitutional, which was first done in Marbury v. Madison. The case would provide for the Constitution to be interpreted on a broader scope, rather than adhering to its provisions and text word for word. If you need legal advice and assistance, contact Maryland lawyers.

Major Decisions-Miranda v Arizona

Major Decisions-Miranda v Arizona

The Miranda v. Arizona case is one that was considered to be as a result of the legal aid movement of the 1960s. The concept of the movement was to basically provide those accused of crimes with the legal support they required on their behalf. Among other Supreme Court decisions, Miranda v. Arizona was one of the most important cases to arise in United States history.

Its final decision would essentially affect various levels of the United States Government,
namely law enforcement. Furthermore, the final verdict would also become a
championing effort for the Civil Rights Movement, as its coverage by the media was quite extensive and would become feted as a victory statement for citizen’s rights in the United States (See Also: Human Rights and Entitlements). Miranda v. Arizona deals with several aspects of provisions set forth by the United States Constitution and served to provide for an application of Constitutional law that would be more visible among the civilian populations of the country.

The case of Miranda v. Arizona deals with a man named Ernesto Miranda that was arrested for rape and kidnapping charges and brought in for questioning and interrogation. After hours of interrogation, Miranda would finally sign a written confession that also affirmed that he was made fully aware of his legal rights and had waived them voluntarily. However, Miranda was never made aware of his rights to an attorney or his right to remain silent prior to being interrogated. Miranda’s defense motioned to have
his written confession to be inadmissible in the courts as evidence. This would be overruled by the State courts, which would lead to an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The crux of the arguments for Miranda’s defense would lie in the fact that the law enforcement officials would have violated the accused’s Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights, as well as failure to comply with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The uproar over the Miranda v. Arizona the case is largely due to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the fact that Amendments under the Bill of Rights of the Constitution were being violated only added to its fervor and publicity.

The Supreme Court would hear the Miranda v. Arizona case under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who eventually overruled the conviction and sentencing of Miranda by the Arizona State courts. Warren would resolve that the confession could not be considered admissible as evidence due to the fact that it was in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution. The infringement of the Fifth Amendment would be in relation to the self-incrimination clause, while the violation of the Sixth Amendment was in respect to the right to an attorney.

Due to the interrogation tactics and practices of the involved law enforcement officials
and the fact that Miranda was never made aware of his rights to remain silent and
to an attorney, the written confession assigned would be considered null due
to such confession being, therefore, coerced or unlawfully forced. Warren would conclude that any person in custody subject to an interrogation must be fully aware of his rights
prior to any such interrogation taking place. Furthermore, the accused must also fully understand those rights and the fact that he/she also has the right to waive such rights.

The rendering of the decision of Miranda v. Arizona would then become implemented into law, in which any person arrested for a crime must be made aware of his rights to due process. The listing and verbal communication from the police to the suspect or accused would become known as Miranda Rights. The rendering of this decision would also have further Constitutional implications in which other Supreme Court cases would try to use Miranda rights as precedence or oppose the ruling altogether, citing that such a practice gives the opportunity for criminals to slip away from justice due to a provisional technicality.

Furthermore, the the ruling of Miranda v. Arizona also helped re-establish the importance of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a fundamental human and civil rights guaranteed to the people of the United States. Warren’s interpretation of the Constitution also helped strengthen the “loose interpretation” of the The constitution that had been implemented in other cases by John Marshall, such as Gibbons v. Ogden, another landmark Supreme Court case.

Major Decisions-New Jersey v. T.L.O.

Major Decisions-New Jersey v. T.L.O.

The Supreme Court has an extensive history in hearing cases in which the Amendments contained in the Bill of Rights are the issue of an alleged
violation or infringement situation. However, the majority of the cases deal
with adults in real-world situations.

On certain occasions, the question as to
how the Constitution applies to students or those not legally considered adults

A case in the 1960s, known as Tinker v. Des Moines, is an example of students and the application of Constitutional rights. The subject would arise some twenty years later once again in New Jersey v. TLO. The case of New Jersey v. TLO is in regards to a student being searched on school grounds because she was thought to be smoking in a non-smoking area of the campus. Even though TLO–such as the girl was referred to due to her name not being released because of her age–denied the accusations of her smoking, she was brought to the principal’s office.

Once there, the assistant vice-principal searched TLO’s purse, in which she found marijuana, several forms of paraphernalia, and letters that indicated that she was involved in dealing with marijuana at her school. Subsequently, TLO would be brought up on charges by the local police and sentenced to one-year probation. The matter was brought to the New Jersey Supreme Court, in which the probation charges were overturned on the grounds that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution had been violated on TLO’s behalf. The State of New Jersey would then appeal to the United States
Supreme Court.

Warren E. Burger was the Chief Justice presiding over New Jersey v. TLO. After reviewing the case and the application of the Fourth Amendment under these circumstances, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey. The Fourth Amendment was used to argue that the search conducted by the school official was unwarranted, and therefore, a violation of TLO’s Constitutional rights. The main the issue at hand was that even though the Fourth Amendment is to be applied to all people of the United States, in certain instances there has to be a balance in which its application cannot extend its limits that disrupt certain procedures affecting safety and the overall well-being of a group of people.

Such was the case in New Jersey v. TLO, in which it was determined that a school or
educational setting warrants some modification regarding the scope in which Students’ rights are applied. Though the Supreme Court did not denounce that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to students, a certain consideration to its application in this type of setting required some lax interpretations. The Fourth Amendment states that a search and seizure cannot be lawfully conducted without a warrant or probable cause.

However, in a school setting, a search is considered to be reasonable and within the constraints of the Fourth Amendment if there is reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is suspected. However, the Supreme Court also rested its the decision that such types of searches are to be conducted by the school themselves and that if law enforcement was to be involved, it could be in breach of a student’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Major Decisions-New York Times v United States

Major Decisions-New York Times v United States

The U.S. Courts have constantly battled with the interpretation and application of the United States Constitution. An issue that is constantly arising in litigation
in the Supreme Court is the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, have often been the subject of debate in the U.S. Courts and continue to be so in today’s society. U.S. Courts would once again have the responsibility of evaluating First Amendment rights once again in 1971, when the Supreme Court would hear theNew York Times. United States case.

The New York Times. United States would not be the first time that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear a case dealing with the freedom of the press granted under the Constitution’s First Amendment. However, this case was significant in the sense that it would pit a Constitutionally-protected right against the overall security of the nation. The case would be based on the fact that the New York Times would obtain a copy of Government documents that would be known as the “Pentagon Papers.”

The Pentagon Papers were a report originating from the Department of Defense that detailed controversial Government tactics in regard to the Vietnam War. The New York Times wanted to publish the documents and make them accessible to the public nationwide. Initially, an injunction was levied against the New York Times that would prohibit it from publishing the Government Pentagon Papers. The government claimed that in making the documents public, the nation’s security would be at risk.

However, the famous newspaper would fight the injunction by citing the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press. Warren E. Burger was the Chief Justice to hear the
case in the Supreme Court. The Court faced a difficult decision regarding the applicability of the First Amendment and to what extent the Constitutional rights granted should be implemented. Even though the Constitution proves to be the ultimate form of law in the United States, in certain instances its absolute adherence could prove to be a dilemma, such as in this particular case with the Pentagon Papers.

Key factors that was considered was whether or not the publishing of the Pentagon Papers
proved to be a danger to national security and whether or not the people had the right to be informed. Furthermore, the justification for rendering a decision for either party can prove to have detrimental circumstances in the form of future precedence for Constitutional interpretation of the laws.

However, The court would eventually grant the decision toThe New York Times, holding that the First Amendment rights of the Constitution should be absolute. Nevertheless, the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court had been in disagreement in the final verdict and even had reservations about hearing the case. Regardless, the case regarding the Pentagon Papers would be ruled in favor of protecting First Amendment Rights, which would later become used as precedence for further cases involving the freedoms granted by the Constitution.

Major Decisions-Regents of U. of California v. Bakke

Major Decisions-Regents of U. of California v. Bakke

The Supreme Court of the United States seems to have dealt with the many numerous issues that have proven to be of controversy in the United States in modern history. One of these disputes is the institution of affirmative action in the United States.

Affirmative Action history can be argued to have its roots since the abolition of slavery and the suffrage movements of both African-Americans and women. However, in modern applications, the concept of affirmative action would be more distinctly defined in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court case.

Through this case, the affirmative action agenda would be brought before the courts and
its outcome would define the scope of the application of affirmative action in terms of its constitutionality. It is important to note that the Bakke case did not involve a minority
seeking to employ affirmative action as a means to accomplish a certain act. In fact, it was something more along the lines of its opposite occurrence, in which a white student sought admission into the University of California Davis Medical School.

Allan Bakke had applied to the University on two separate occasions and was denied admission, while students that were considered members of minority groups were being accepted who had significantly lower academic scores and accomplishments than Bakke. Bakke would then bring the matter to the courts, stating that the affirmative action program of the school was being used to exclude him from admission based on race. Therefore, such action was a direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment under the Equal Protection Clause.

The University would subsequently provide for a counter-claim which declared that the school’s affirmative action special admission program was carrying out its duties in a lawful manner. The Chief Justice presiding over the Bakke case was Warren E. Burger. After investigating the matter and evaluating the special program implemented by the University, the Supreme Court would rule in favor of Bakke. The Supreme Court would find that the practice of the University instituting a form of quotas regarding the acceptance of minority students was an unconstitutional practice.

For example, the Davis Medical School would reserve 16 seats out of 100 for minority
students, leaving the remaining 84 seats to be filled under regular admissions
procedures. The Supreme court ruled that the University could not take race into account in regards to making admissions decisions. This was in direct violation of two Constitutional statutes: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth
Amendment. Title VI stated that no racial or ethnic preference shall be given
or granted to any particular group by any institution or program that was Federally

Under the Fourteenth Amendment, it was deemed that reserving a number of seats for minority students denied Bakke equal protection as provided by the Constitution.
However, it is important to note that in the actual decision in the Bakke case, there was no actual majority reached by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the Court did not rule on the implementation of the affirmative action practice in general. Two factors were considered by the Supreme Court.

The factors were whether or not race could be used as a factor among many others in admissions programs and whether a program could exclude members using race as a basis. The majority would only be reached–and a slight one at that–on the matter of members being excluded, which was deemed unconstitutional.

Major Decisions-Roe v Wade

Major Decisions-Roe v Wade

The Roe v. Wade case would prove to be one of the most controversial cases ever tried by the Supreme Court. The implications leading to the Supreme
The court case itself, as well as the immediate aftereffects, are ones that are still being debated today by numerous factions.

The main issue disputed in Roe v. Wade was women’s rights to an abortion. At the time, several states had restrictions considering abortion, ranging from the overall ban of the practice to allowing abortion through approval of a medical panel. Furthermore, it would be the opposition of several religious factions that would lend for more controversy to the issue, specifically when the Supreme Court rendered a decision in favor of allowing abortion to be a legal practice.

Roe v. Wade would become the landmark United States Supreme Court decision on the issue of abortion. Even though the courts would render abortion a legal practice, they also implemented certain restrictions, such as the right to abortion is limited depending on the stage of pregnancy. Additionally, the courts provided for a viability clause, which was defined as the fetus’ potential for survival outside of the womb of the mother, even if artificial aid is to be implemented. Medically speaking, viability occurs at about the seventh month of pregnancy. However, it can occur beforehand.

Roe v. Wade would have Constitutional implications on several levels. Firstly, those using the Constitution in opposition to abortion rights cited that there was no implicit provision regarding the issue in the Constitution. Because of this reason, many believed that such a right should be within the power of the states to resolve and decide to implement. Chief
Justice Warren E. Burger, however, would delve into Constitutional law further by examining its contained provisions, and thus, being able to confirm the decision to grant the right to abortion within the scope of Constitutional laws.

The Supreme Court would rule that abortion was a fundamental right provided by the United States Constitution. Initially, the decision was based upon the Constitution’s Ninth
Amendment. It was argued that the Ninth Amendment rights granted to the people would encompass a woman’s decision to have an abortion under the interpretation that the Ninth Amendment would protect inferred rights not specifically enumerated by the Constitution.

However, it would be the The Fourteenth Amendment that would be more applicable
in the case for further protecting the right to privacy based on the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. It was also ascertained that abortion rights where protected by the Bill of Rights as a whole, wherever provisions to the right of privacy, such as marital, familial, and sexual matters are discussed. The Judges’ majority decision on Roe v. Wade itself proves to exhibit how complicated the case actually was, for it was divided into twelve
sections plus a preface, which include all of the considerations that were evaluated
to render the decision in favor of Roe.

One of the most important clauses contained therein would be the Justices’ application of the Constitution without having implemented any particular sentiment or emotion regarding the case regardless of personal views. They would apply the Constitution without any reservation, regardless of the outcome of the decision. The majority opinion also states that the decision would also be applied in concurrence with medical views and history, for abortion, was not just a legal issue, but a health issue. Overall, the judges would conclude that the purpose of the Constitution was not to evaluate conflicting issues or ideals, but rather to provide for rights and regulations the commonwealth could agree upon to govern the country as a whole.

It is without a doubt that the final decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade would end in controversy and such disputes are still encountered today, with various grassroots movements existing that oppose abortion, as well as religious entities stating their beliefs on the matter. Those that support abortion rights have gone so far as citing the Thirteenth Amendment, claiming that denying abortion rights would compel a woman to forcefully bear a child and undergo pregnancy, which can be considered “involuntary servitude”. Even though this argument has not necessarily been evaluated in terms of Constitutionality, it proves to be yet another viewpoint that uses Constitutional law against abortion bans.

Major Decisions-Texas v. Johnson

Major Decisions-Texas v. Johnson

The Supreme Court has on various occasions dealt with cases that have the First Amendment the crux of the dispute. In other Supreme Court Cases, the judgments rendered have proven that the First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech are not constricted to that of the written and spoken word, but also extend to symbolic speech as well.

Texas v. Johnson is yet another Supreme Court case in which the application and interpretation of First Amendment rights are at the heart of the dispute. Texas v. Johnson deals with quite a controversial issue, one that continues today. Gregory Lee Johnson was participating in a demonstration that was denouncing and protesting some of the policies incurred by the Reagan Administration. In a form of protest, Johnson managed to get his hands on an American flag and proceeded to douse it in kerosene and light it ablaze.

Though many of his protesting comrades understood the symbolism behind his actions and probably applauded him for it, there were many others who were just as disgusted and offended. The issue brought civil penalties against Johnson, including a $2,000 fine, as well as a year in prison. The conviction was brought on appeal to Texas State courts. The first appeal was rejected, but Johnson’s second appeal to yet a higher State court overturned the conviction. The decision was based upon his actions being protected under
First Amendment rights.

The State of Texas then brought the matter to the Supreme Court, under the argument that the flag was a national symbol and that flag burning was not only a desecration of national unity but also a breach of peace. Furthermore, Texas had State laws and
statutes that prohibited flag burning. Texas was one of the many states having similar provisions, with the exception of only two states in the country not imposing such regulations.

The Chief Justice at the time was William Rehnquist, who would be responsible for presiding over Texas v. Johnson. The Supreme Court eventually rendered a decision in one of the most closely decided and controversial decisions of the Supreme Court. The decision rendered concluded that Johnson’s flag burning was Constitutionally-protected under First Amendment rights. The Court held that even though such an act was not a verbal or written speech, it was protected under the concept of symbolic speech. A similar decision was arrived at in a previous landmark Supreme Court case in Tinker v. Des Moines.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court would also state that regardless of the State of Texas’ intents of preserving unity and protecting a national symbol, they were not valid arguments for the case. Concurrently, the Supreme Court would also strike down the State’s argument regarding the breaching of the peace. Since Johnson’s flag burning did not actually harm anyone or threaten danger to the community, no disturbance or breach of peace actually took place. The Court did state, however, that flag burning could be punishable by law in instances where it constitutes an actual danger or lawless action.

Though flag burning, as an action, will not always present such a circumstance and its potential for such can be grounds to punish the act, flag burning must be actual and readily identifiable as a real threat or lawless action. The consequences of Texas v. Johnson still have effects today, for the issue still remains controversial. On the Constitutional level, Texas v. Johnson has incited several bills proposed by Congress (See Also: The Constitution-Article I) that would prohibit flag burning in the United States on
a national level. A law by Congress did manage to get passed but was eventually struck down by the same five-person majority of Justices that tried the Texas v. Johnson case.