Gitlow v. New York began in the 1920s when two men, Benjamin Gitlow and Alan Larkin, were arrested by New York police for criminal anarchy because they published an unconventional Communist newspaper called The Revolutionary Age, which contained a manifesto similar to The Communist Manifesto entitled “The Left Wing Manifesto.” This manifesto encouraged a violent overthrow of the United States government. Gitlow and Larkin appealed their convictions, believing that they violated their right to freedom of speech provided by the First Amendment. Both the appellate court and the United States Supreme Court upheld the convictions. However, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion expanded freedom of speech as well. It ruled that states had to abide by the First Amendment because of the Fourteenth Amendment (which specifically states that states must abide by it), which provides people with the right to due process of law. The Supreme Court's reason for upholding Gitlow and his companion's convictions was that they passed the "bad (or dangerous) test," meaning that their call for violent action could directly cause harm. It was ruled that public safety was more important than a few people's freedom of speech. In a dissenting opinion, two Supreme Court justices wrote that "The Left Wing Manifesto" would not cause imminent harm since it did not specify an exact time for or manner of overthrowing the government and that the ideas presented in the manifesto were beliefs like any other protected by the First Amendment. The ruling in Gitlow v. New York allowed freedom of speech to be restricted when it had the potential to cause violence until part of the ruling was overturned in 1930, when the government became more limited in its ability to prohibit freedom of speech ("Gitlow v. New York").
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka began with four separate cases filed in different states by the NAACP, all involving people who had been denied admission to certain public schools because they were not white. There were rules about people having to attend school with people of the same race (Encyclopedia Britannica, "Brown v. Board"). The African-American petitioners argued that their rights from the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Oyez, "Brown v. Board") which states that no state was to deny people "the equal protection of the laws," (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV) had been violated, while the white plaintiffs used an argument based on a precedent for the case: Plessy v. Ferguson, in which it was ruled that "separate but equal" was constitutional (Oyez, "Brown v. Board"). The unanimous majority opinion in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned this precedent on the grounds that separate does not mean equal and that the rights of the petitioners were indeed being violated. The Supreme Court issued an order for district courts and local school authorities to take all of the necessary steps to integrate their schools. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka led to a prioritization of equality despite the problems people feared it would bring about (Encyclopedia Britannica, "Brown v. Board").
Engel v. Vitale started when the Board of Regents for the State of New York mandated that each school lead its students in a simple, voluntary Christian prayer each day. This raised the question of whether or not a prayer that was voluntary and did not adhere to a specific Christian denomination's beliefs violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment ("Engel v. Vitale"), which states that there shall be "no law respecting the establishment of religion" (U.S. Const. Amend. I). In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court decided in Engel's favor, ruling that even though the requirement for prayer was voluntary and not specific to a Christian denomination, it was unconstitutional because it involved the endorsement of a religion by public officials. The decision reached by most of the Supreme Court, which has been criticized by many, has led to the restriction many religious activities, especially ones that take place in public ("Engel v. Vitale").
In Florida in 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested for breaking and entering and petty larceny. He believed that he had a right to a lawyer to defend himself, but he could not afford one. His request for a lawyer was denied. Since Gideon did not have a thorough knowledge of the law and had to defend himself in court, he lost his case and was put in jail. He began to read books from the legal library in jail and reached the conclusion that he had been denied his constitutional right. He petitioned Florida's Supreme Court to release him on the grounds that he had been imprisoned illegally. This was unsuccessful, but he persevered. Eventually, he petitioned the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case. The main question in the case was whether or not poor people involved in noncapital state criminal cases were entitled to a lawyer. The court would decide whether or not Gideon was cheated out of his right to counsel (Street Law, "Gideon v. Wainwright") mentioned in the Sixth Amendment (U.S. Const. Amend. VI) and his right to due process mentioned in the Fourteenth Amendment (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV). In a previous case, Betts v. Brady, it was ruled that poor people did not have to get a lawyer in noncapital state criminal cases unless there were special circumstances (Street Law, "Gideon v. Wainwright"). The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Constitution places emphasis on ensuring that people received counsel when they were accused of crimes. It also ruled that since constitutional amendments applied to states because of the wording of the Fourteenth Amendment (Oyez, "Gideon v. Wainwright"), which explicitly says that states must abide by it (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV). The ruling overturned Betts v. Brady and ensured that all people involved in criminal cases were entitled to a lawyer (Street Law, "Gideon v. Wainwright").
In December of 1965, Mary Beth Tinker and some of her classmates planned to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The school found out about the plan and banned the armbands, but Tinker and her classmates wore them anyway. They were suspended and forced to stop wearing the armbands, but they continued other forms of protest. The ACLU helped the families of the students with a four-year legal conflict ("Tinker v. Des Moines - Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Behalf of Student Expression") that was to determine whether or not the students' First Amendment freedom of speech (U.S. Const. Amend. I) had been violated ("Tinker v. Des Moines - Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Behalf of Student Expression"). The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled with a 7-2 majority that as public institutions, public schools had to allow students their First Amendment freedom of speech so long as any protests by the students did not disrupt the operation of the school. Arguments against the ruling included the possibility that the controversial armbands that started the dispute were distracting and the idea that authorities needed to be able to regulate students ("Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District"). The ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District set a precedent for cases many cases involving student expression and allowed students to exercise their freedom of speech ("Tinker v. Des Moines - Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Behalf of Student Expression"). In recent years, however, cases such as Morse v. Frederick have allowed the prevention of the spreading of certain messages at school-sponsored events, which have restricted the freedom of speech guaranteed to students in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District ("Morse v. Frederick").
New York Times v. United States was a dispute about whether the Nixon administration's efforts to prevent the publication of what it termed “classified information” violated the First Amendment. In 1971, the Nixon Administration attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified Defense Department study regarding the history of United States activities in Vietnam. The president argued that prior restraint was necessary to protect national security. The decision by the New York Times and Washington Post to print illegally leaked, classified documents about American involvement in the Vietnam War sparked a First Amendment battle between the highest levels of government and two of the most respected newspapers in the country. The Court ruled 6-3 in New York Times v. United States that the prior restraint was unconstitutional. They agreed that “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government…In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.” Dismissing the claimed threat to national security, the Court continued, “The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.”
The case of Wisconsin v. Yoder involved three Amish fathers - Jonas Yoder, Wallace Miller, and Adin Yutzy - who, in accordance with their religion, refused to enroll their children, in public or private schools after they had completed the eighth grade. The state of Wisconsin required that children attend school to the age of 16. The fathers were found guilty of violating the law, and each were fined $5. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that individual's interests in the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the State's interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade. The court went on to conclude that secondary schooling would expose Amish children to attitudes and values that ran counter to their beliefs and would interfere with both the child’s religious development and his or her integration into the Amish lifestyle. This decision created the important precedent of the First Amendment's free exercise of religion, this means that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. For example, the state or government can not prohibit going to the Mosque on Fridays.
Jane Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. Texas law prohibited abortions except to save the pregnant woman's life. The Supreme Court ruled (7–2) that state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. In a majority opinion written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. This right to privacy is recognized in the previous case of Griswold v. Connecticut. The Supreme Court established the important precedent that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable.
Alfonzo Lopez, a 12th grade high school student, carried a concealed weapon into his San Antonio, Texas high school. He was charged under Texas law with firearm possession on school premises. Federal agents charged Lopez with violating a federal criminal statute, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. The act forbids "any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that [he] knows...is a school zone." It was unconstitutional because the U.S. Congress, in enacting the legislation, had exceeded its authority under the commerce clause. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist explained that the Gun-Free School Zones Act was neither a regulation of the channels of interstate commerce nor an attempt to prohibit interstate transportation of a commodity through those channels. Lopez v. United States is significant because it is one of the few times the Supreme Court used the Commerce Clause to reduce the government's power.
Several lawsuits were filed against Chicago and Oak Park in Illinois opposing their gun bans after the Supreme Court issued its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a District of Columbia handgun ban violated the Second Amendment. There, the Court reasoned that the law in question was placed under the authority of the federal government and, thus, the Second Amendment was applicable. Here, defendants argued that the Second Amendment should also apply to the states. This questioned if the Second Amendment applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges and Immunities or Due Process clause. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” applies to state and local governments as well as to the federal government. This created the precedent that rights that are "fundamental to the Nation's scheme of ordered liberty" or that are "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition" are appropriately applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.