Supreme Court Cases
Case Briefs for Five (5) Supreme Court Cases
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (Brown I)
Argued: December 9-11, 1952
Reargued: December 7-9, 1953
Date Decided: May 17, 1954
Vote: 9-0: Segregating learners in public schools based on their racial background deprived children from minority groups of the equal legal protection they were entitled to as envisaged by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Facts of the Case: During the filing of the case, state-sponsored segregation had led to the establishment of separate schools for white and black students. The plaintiffs in this particular case called for the reversal of the racial segregation policy. White and black schools at the time “approached equality in terms of buildings, curricula, qualifications, and teacher salaries” (Oyez, 2011).
Legal Principles at Issue: Whether the establishment of separate public schools for students from different races was unconstitutional, i.e. whether segregation of students on the basis of race was in violation to the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
Legal Basis for Decision: This particular case sought to challenge a doctrine which at the time was popularly known as the “separate but equal” doctrine. As per the doctrine, Alexander and Alexander (2011) observe that “equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate” (p. 1007). For this reason, of key concern was whether facilities that were regarded equal although separate were inherently unequal. It was decided that by dint of being segregated, children of minority groups were effectively denied equal educational opportunities and for this reason, separate facilities (regardless of their proclamations of equality) had no place in public education. It is important to note that reargument was largely founded on the need to clarify the issues that originally surrounded the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. On this front, the court found out that the said Amendment’s history could not be regarded conclusive, especially with regard to the effect it intended to have on public education. For this reason, the case was determined with the place of public education in the American society at the time in mind.
Quotable: “We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate-but-equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (Alexander and Alexander, 2011, p. 1007).
Writing for: Mr. Chef Justice Warren delivered the opinion of the court in which Justices Minton, S. Clark, T.C., Burton, H.H., Jackson, R.H., Douglas, W.O., Frankfurter, F., Reed, S.F. And Black, H. joined the Majority.
Writing Dissenting Opinion(s): There was no dissenting opinion.
Citation: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
Argued: November 12, 1968
Date Decided: February 24, 1969
Vote: 7:2: Prohibiting armband wearing (as a form of passive and quiet protest) in public schools violates the rights of students with regard to free speech — a constitutional right envisaged by the First Amendment.
Facts of the Case: Three young people decided to register their displeasure with the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands. This motivated the principals of the schools they were attending at the time to put in place a policy that effectively banned students from attending school clad in similar armbands. The three students defied the policy and they were promptly suspended from school. This prompted their parents to sue the school district for what they termed a violation of the rights of the concerned students to express themselves freely. In so doing, the said parents were seeking “an injunction to prevent the school district from disciplining the students” (Oyez, 2011). The case was however dismissed by the District Court on the grounds that the actions embraced by the school district were necessary in as far as upholding discipline was concerned (Oyez, 2011). This U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed this decision (Oyez, 2011).
Legal Principles at Issue: Whether banning armband wearing (as a form of passive and quiet protest) in public schools went against the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment which essentially guarantees freedom of speech.
Legal Basis of the Decision: The Supreme Court held that any move to regulate expression had to be backed up with valid and sound reasons that did not in any way make a mockery of constitutional provisions. For this reason, it was held that the relevance of the First Amendment spread to public schools. In the final analysis therefore, it was the decision of the Supreme Court that the students were within their rights to engage in the said protest. This is more so the case given that there was no evidence presented to prove that their actions had caused any kind of disruption or disturbance.
Quotable: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the school gate” (Imber and Geel, 2010, p. 57).
Writing for: Justice Fortas, a. delivered the opinion of the court in which Chief Justice Warren, E. And Justices Marshal, T., White, B.R., Brennan, W.J., and Douglas, W.O. joined the Majority. Justice Stewart, P. wrote a special concurrence.
Writing Dissenting Opinion(s): Justices Black, H.L. And Harlan, J.M. filed two separate dissenting opinions.
Citation: Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
Argued: October 13, 1987
Date Decided: January 13, 1988
Vote: 5-3: The move by the principal to delete two articles that in his view were inappropriate did not violate the right of students as envisaged by the First Amendment.
Facts of the Case: This particular case regarded the omission of two stories from a student newspaper, the Spectrum, on orders from the school principal. As was the norm, the newspaper had to be submitted to the principal prior to printing. On this particular occasion, the school principal was opposed to two of the stores which were scheduled to appear in the said newspaper issue and for this reason, he ordered that they be omitted. While one of the stories had a sexual theme the principal deemed inappropriate for the target audience, the other story in the principal’s opinion did not give the issue at hand a balanced approach. The newspaper’s editor and two of its reporters sued.
Legal Principles at Issue: Whether the decision by the principal to exclude the two stories violated students’ rights as per the First Amendment.
Legal Basis for Decision: It was the decision of the Supreme Court that the principal was within his mandate to censor the two articles. In particular, the court pointed out that as per the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, schools were not under any obligation to promote (affirmatively) certain kinds of student speech (Oyez, 2011). It was the court’s opinion that “educators did not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the content of student speechâ€¦” (Oyez, 2011). The court was convinced that the decision by the educators to order that the two stories be omitted was based on pedagogical concerns which were largely legitimate.
Quotable: “A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not sensor similar speech outside the school” (Patrick, Pious, and Ritchie, 2001, p. 614).
Writing for: Justice White, B.R. delivered the opinion of the court in which Justices Stevens, J.P., Rehnquist, W.H., O’Connor, S.D. And Scalia, a. joined the Majority.
Writing Dissenting Opinion(s): Brennan, W.J. filed a dissenting opinion in which Marshall, T. And Blackmun, H.A. joined.
Citation: New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Argued: March 28, 1984
Reargued: October 2, 1984
Date Decided: January 15, 1985
Vote: 6-3: Subjecting a 14-year-old to a search within the school precincts (without a valid warrant) did not violate the constitution’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Facts of Case: Two students were found in the bathroom (within the precincts of Piscataway Township High School) smoking cigarettes. One admitted while the other who went by the name T.L.O. denied smoking. A search on T.L.O.’s purse yielded drug paraphernalia and a bag of marijuana (Oyez, 2011). The principal promptly contacted the girl’s mother and the police.
Legal Principles at Issue: Whether subjecting the girl to search (without a valid warrant) was in violation of her constitutional rights.
Legal Basis for Decision: The court in this case held that a warrant need not be obtained by school authorities prior to subjecting a student who happens to be under their authority to search. Of key concern in this case was whether a student’s expectation of privacy overrode the mandate of a school to enhance discipline and order. However, as Hinchey (2001) observes, the court pointed out that in addition to being justified at their inception, school searches also needed to be reasonable as far as their intrusiveness and objectiveness was concerned.
Quotable: “The legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all circumstances, of the search” (Hinchey, 2001, p. 49).
Writing for: Justice White, B.R delivered the opinion of the court in which Justices Burger, W.E., Rehnquist, W.H. And O’Connor, S.D. joined the Majority. Justices Blackmun, H.A. And Powell, L.F. wrote a special and regular concurrence respectively. In addition to voting with the majority, O’Connor S.D. joined Powel’s concurrence.
Writing Dissenting Opinion(s): Stevens, J.P. filed a dissenting opinion in which Marshall, T. And Brennan, W.J joined. Brennan also filed a separate dissenting opinion in which Marshall T. joined.
Citation: Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (2000)
Argued: March 29, 2000
Date Decided: June 19, 2000
Vote: 6-3: The policy adopted by the Santa Fe Independent School District with regard to allowing prayers that were led and initiated by students during sporting events went against the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Facts of Case: Students in Santa Fe Independent School District were allowed to offer prayers (mostly Christian) using PA systems before football games commenced. Two parents — one a Catholic and the other a Mormon – filed a suit in objection to this practice. During litigation, students elected to have the delivery of “invocations” during games with the said invocations being delivered by a selected spokesperson (Oyez, 2011). This policy was allowed by the District Court. The Court of Appeals however held that the said policy even in its modified state was still invalid. The Supreme Court granted certiorari as petitioned by the District Court which argued that “its policy did not violate the Establishment Clause because the football game messages were private student speech, not public speech” (Oyez, 2011).
Legal Principles at Issue: Whether the Santa Fe Independent School District policy was in any way violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
Legal Basis for Decision: It was the decision of the court that the student led prayer policy was largely unconstitutional. In that regard, the policy was effectively found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause. In the court’s opinion, prayers conducted at football matches in the context of the case could be categorized as “public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related eventsâ€¦” (Oyez, 2011). As such, the said policy bore a perceived stamp of government approval and could therefore not be regarded private.
Quotable: “The delivery of a message such as the invocation here — on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student bodyâ€¦pursuant to a school policyâ€¦is not properly characterized as ‘private’ speech” (Hinchey, 2001, p. 131).
Writing for: Justice Stevens, J.P delivered the opinion of the court in which Justices O’Connor S.D., Kennedy, a.M., Souter, DH, Ginsburg, R.B. And Breyer, S.G. joined the Majority.
Writing Dissenting Opinion(s): Chief Justice Rehnquist, W. filed a dissenting opinion in which Scalia, a. And Thomas, C. joined.
Alexander, K. & Alexander, M.D. (2011). American Public School Law (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Hinchey, P. (2001). Student Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.
Imber, M. & Geel, T.V. (2010). A Teacher’s Guide to Education Law (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Oyez. (2011). Brown v. Board of Education (I). Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1952/1952_1/
Oyez. (2011). Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1968/1968_21
Oyez. (2011). Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1987/1987_86_836
Oyez. (2011). New Jersey v. T.L.O. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1983/1983_83_712
Oyez. (2011). Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1999/1999_99_62
Patrick, J., Pious, R.M. & Ritchie, D.A. (2001). The Oxford Guide to the United States Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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