24 Supreme Court Cases Every Presidential Candidate Should Know

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When Texas Gov. Rick Perry referred to Justice Sonia Sotomayor as "Montemayor" and mistakenly referred to the eight members of the Supreme Court (there are nine), he was forgiven by some. But when he forgot the name of the landmark gay rights case decided while he was governor, eyes began to roll.

Refresh this man's memory!

In October 2008, during the last campaign, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin stumbled on similar ground. Asked by Katie Couric, then anchor of the "CBS Evening News," to name one Supreme Court decision besides Roe v. Wade that she believed was wrongly decided she drew a blank.

So which cases should go in the briefing book for any presidential candidate?

This landmark decision helped establish the parameters of judicial review and formed the modern understanding of the system of checks and balances. Ultimately, the court found that part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, the law upon which this case was based, was unconstitutional because it required the court to reach beyond the powers allocated to it in Article III of the Constitution. Marbury v. Madison is the first time a court declared an American law unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court held that people in the United States of African descent could not become American citizens and were not protected by the U.S. Constitution. This precedent has since essentially been overturned, but the decision had long-lasting cultural implications.
Plessy v. Ferguson established the doctrine of separate but equal -- permitting racial segregation as long as conditions for black and white Americans were reasonably similar. The doctrine governed American law until 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education struck it down. Plessy v. Ferguson furthered practices of segregation, particularly in the South, and, although contrary to the fundamental message of the decision, led to inferior conditions for African-Americans.
The Supreme Court found that the United States government's orders for the creation of internment camps during World War II for Americans of Japanese descent were constitutional. The majority opinion noted that such camps were needed for national security. This decision was essentially overturned in 1983.
A landmark decision that overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and declared that separate public schools for black and white Americans were unconstitutional. This unanimous decision contributed to integration and paved the way for the civil rights movement.
The Supreme Court held that courts must provide counsel for those who cannot independently afford adequate representation in criminal trials. According to the court, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides this right. This ruling helped establish the public defender system that now exists across the country.
The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects publications from statements (both true and false) unless the publication knowingly published false information. This decision increased the degree to which publications freely reported on the civil rights movement.
The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits government-imposed limits on independent political contributions by corporations. This case arose after a non-profit group wished to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton. The decision struck down portions of the McCain-Feingold Act that restricted political contributions by businesses.
Statements made by suspects are admissible in court only if the suspect was previously informed of his rights. These rights include the right to consult an attorney and the right against self-incrimination. This ruling created the Miranda warning given prior to questioning that is a formal statement of the suspect's rights.
Loving v. Virginia declared Virginia's statute restricting interracial marriages to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court found that the law had no public purpose other than to discriminate. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion that "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."
This ruling is commonly seen as legalizing abortions. In a controversial decision, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment applies to a woman's decision to have an abortion. The ruling noted that a woman's rights should be balanced with the states' rights to protect its citizens.
United States v. Nixon limited executive power. The Supreme Court found that neither the separation of powers nor the need for confidential communication grants the president absolute privileges. The court required the Nixon administration to turn over tapes and documents. Nixon resigned shortly after.
The Supreme Court ruled that public figures cannot recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress from publications unless the publication intended harm and knew the information was untrue. This ruling expanded free speech and valued such liberties higher than protecting public officials.
Texas v. Johnson held that burning an American flag is a protected expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. According to the Supreme Court, the fact that people find the act offensive does not prohibit it.
The Supreme Court limited Congressional power under the Commerce Clause. The case involved a high school student who carried a concealed weapon to school. The court found that gun possession in a public school did not substantially affect interstate commerce and, therefore, the Commerce Clause could not be used as justification for Congress' legislation. The precedent from United States v. Lopez may impact the outcome of cases determining the constitutionality of the health care reform laws passed in 2010.
In this decision, the Supreme Court effectively decided the result of the 2000 presidential election. It ruled that applying inconsistent standards to ballots was unlawful and, therefore, put an end to Florida's ballot recounts. As a result of this decision, the State of Florida awarded its 25 electoral votes to George W. Bush, which earned him the presidency.
Grutter v. Bollinger said the use of race as a factor in the college admission process is not unlawful. The majority said that obtaining a diverse student body was intended to enrich the educational experience for all students. The plaintiff argued the weight the admissions committee at the University of Michigan Law School placed on raced unfairly prevented her from being accepted.
In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down Texas' law prohibiting sodomy and thereby made homosexual intercourse legal in the United States. The Court found that consensual sexual activity was included in the liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
According to Kelo v. City of New London, confiscating private property for the city to sell for commercial development qualifies as public use and is, therefore, permitted. The court noted that such development was intended to stimulate the local economy and was not intended to benefit only a specific group of people.
This ruling made the developers of peer-to-peer file sharing programs vulnerable to lawsuits for inducing copyright infringement. The Supreme Court held that such developers were not immune from secondary liability as a practical means of enforcing the law.
The Supreme Court permitted the existence of a monument of the Ten Commandments on grounds of Texas' state capitol building. This was not deemed a violation of the separation of church and state because, according to the majority opinion, the monument paid tribute the historical meaning of the Ten Commandments and recognized them as part of the nation's tradition.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that executing minors is considered cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court found that the military commissions established to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay were in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Article Three of the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court determined it had proper jurisdiction to enforce the Geneva Convention at a detention center operated by the United States.
The Supreme Court declared Washington, D.C.'s tough gun laws were in violation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Although the D.C. council insisted such provisions were in the public interest, the court deemed them unlawful as the Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms for self defense.
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