News

Watch our new film on McCulloch v. Maryland!

Check our new film on one of the most famous and foundational cases in the history of the Supreme Court, McCulloch v. Maryland.  In 1791, Alexander Hamilton founded a National Bank.  Pretty simple, right?  But this simple act set off a fight over who had power over whom, the States or the newly-formed Federal Government.  The answer lay in one line in Article VI of the Constitution: The Supremacy Clause.

Learn more in our new film The Supremacy Clause: McCulloch v. Maryland.

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Supreme Court overturns Korematsu in response to charge of echos in Travel Ban decision

The Topaz War Relocation Center, where Fred Korematsu was sent after his arrest (National Archives)

 
In his majority opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, Chief Justice John Roberts overturned the ruling in Korematsu v. United States (1944) that had stood for nearly three quarters of a century in response to a dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor that drew parallels between the opinion in Trump and that in Korematsu
 
Roberts’s opinion in Trump upheld an Executive Order by President Donald Trump to exclude people from several predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the United States on national security grounds.  Koremastu upheld the internement of Japanese Americans during World War II ruling that it was based on “proper security measures” in time of war. 
 
Justice Roberts denied any relation between Trump and Korematsu, but took the opportunity of its mention to overturn Korematsu, quoting a dissent by Justice Robert Jackson.  “Koremastu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and—to be clear—’has no place in law under the Constitution.'”
 
In her dissent in Trump, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “By blindly accepting the Government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discrimi­natory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the Court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one ‘gravely wrong’ decision with another.”
 

Learn more about Korematsu v. United States in our film Korematsu and Civil Liberties.

 
 
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Supreme Court to weigh the limits of Presidential power

President Harry S. Truman (United States Army Signal Corps, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.)

On Wednesday, April 25th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Trump v. Hawaii.  The case stems from a presidential executive order that bans people from six countries*, five of which are Muslim-majority, from entering the United States.  The White House issued the ban arguing that travelers from Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and North Korea could pose a security risk, despite the fact that no citizen from these countries has carried out a fatal terrorist attack in the U.S. in the past two decades.  The Court will hear arguments as to whether the President overstepped the limits of the Executive branch by issuing immigration orders that contradict earlier ones issued by Congress.

Trump v. Hawaii could be the greatest test of presidential authority in 66 years.  In 1952, in a case called Youngstown v. Sawyer, the Court overturned an order by President Harry Truman that seized control of the U.S. steel industry during the Korean War to prevent it from being disrupted by a labor strike.  In a 6-3 opinion, the Court ruled that President Truman violated the Separation of Powers laid out in the Constitution by seizing the industry without Congressional approval.  The president cannot give himself that authority, the Court ruled, because “[i]n 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.”

Learn more about the limits of Presidential Power in our film about Youngstown v. Sawyer, Checks and Balances.

 

*The Executive Order, signed on September 24, 2017, followed two previous E.O.s issued in January and March 2017 that were rescinded following legal challenges.  The September E.O. initially included a sixth Muslim-majority country, Chad, but the White House removed Chad from the list earlier this month.

 

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Remembering Linda Brown, the 3rd grader whose case overturned “separate but equal”

Linda Brown in 1964 (Library of Congress)

Brown v. Board of Education is the case that desegregated schools in America and overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” that enabled segregation in the United States.  The third grader at the center of the case, Linda Brown, died this week at the age of 76.

Linda just wanted a closer school and a safer commute, one that didn’t involve crossing a dangerous street and railroad tracks just to get to her bus.  But the school five minutes from her home was all white and Linda was African American.  And in Topeka, Kansas in the 1950s, like in much of the country, schools were segregated.  Linda’s parents objected and their case became a class action lawsuit that eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court.  

In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court ruled in favor of Brown, writing that segregation and the doctrine of “separate but equal” were inherently unequal and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Learn more about the fight to end segregation in schools in our film An Independent Judiciary.

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Bill of Rights ratified over two centuries ago today

On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, was adopted after being ratified by three fourths of the states.  Support for a Bill of Rights gained momentum during the ratification process, with many Framers and state legislators arguing that the new Constitution needed to do more to guarantee certain freedoms for citizens.  Originally twelve Amendments were proposed, by the original first and second Amendments, which discussed numbers of Congressional Representatives and Representative and Senator pay, were not adopted at the time.

Watch our film, The Bill of Rights to learn about the fight behind this landmark founding document, and the rights it’s intended to protect.