The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law and it functions as an interpreter of the Constitution. While some rulings have maybe caused more harm than good, others have improved racial relations, empowered women, granted press freedom, upheld the right to free speech and reaffirmed that the president is not above the law. Here are five important cases decided on by the Supreme Court that have changed America.
1. New York Times v. United States
The Nixon Administration was under much pressure to put an end to the Vietnam War. President Nixon claimed that there was a breach in national security when some classified materials were leaked to the New York Times. He attempted to use his authority to suspend the publication of this information. This case was brought before the Supreme Court and it was decided that the First Amendment protected the New York Times’ right to publish the material.
2. NFIB v. Sebelius
This case has restructured the American health care system. It appeared that President Obama’s historic legislation, The Affordable Care Act, would serve as both the centerpiece of his presidency and the core of his reelection campaign when he was able to persuade the legislative branch to adopt it. The bill’s integrity was questioned, though, and it reached the Supreme Court. The challengers of the act lacked standing and it was decided that the act should be upheld. Millions of Americans can access healthcare thanks to the law.
3. Abrams v. United States
In the early twentieth century, towards the end of World War I, Jacob Abrams and four other Russians distributed leaflets in New York which protested the actions of the United States in the war. This included the deployment of troops to Russia. The Espionage Act which worked alongside the Sedition Act forbade the use of abusive or disloyal language about the US government whether it is spoken, printed, written or published. The statements in the leaflets were said to go against this law so the Russians were arrested and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. In the appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s free speech was not violated.
4. Mapp v. Ohio
Police in Ohio broke into Dollree Mapp’s home without a warrant because they believed a potential bomber was inside. While conducting the search, they found incriminating evidence such as betting slips and obscene materials which was a violation of Ohio’s laws. After Mapp was arrested and convicted, she appealed. The Supreme Court had to decide whether the state of Ohio could use this evidence in the criminal prosecution. The court concluded that it was crucial to follow “the exclusionary rule,” which forbids the use of evidence gained unlawfully in criminal proceedings. This case has influenced a new definition of the rights of those who are accused and restrictions on how the police gather evidence.
5. Engel v. Vitale
In 1958, William Vitale who led the school board of Nassau County asked teachers to begin the school day by allowing students to recite a prayer. Students could choose not to say the prayer. Many parents including Steven Engel, sued saying that this practice violated the religion clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that reading an official prayer in class was unconstitutional because it represented “establishment of religion,” which is unlawful. As a result of the decision, any state-mandated prayer or bible reading in a public school would be questionable. It was also a significant case that demonstrated how the law separating religion and state was applied.
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