Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In the early 1830s, the city of Baltimore was developing as a bustling urban center and port.  The city diverted the streams around John Barron’s successful wharf and lowered the water level, which negatively impacted his business.  He sued the city to recover his financial losses.

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Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

The Dissolution of the Dormant Commerce Clause:  Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Co.

In The Colorado Kid, author Steven King says, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”  This is certainly true when it comes to issues of public policy and constitutional law.  In this essay, we discuss the concept of the “Dormant” Commerce Clause, specifically within the context of navigable waterways.  The issue of who has jurisdiction over “navigable” waters is one that remains a subject of enormous debate—especially as the environmental movement has pushed an ever-more-marginal definition of “navigability” in order to pull more waters under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

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Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

Green v. Biddle: Clear Title and the Relationship of States to the Federal Government

The easy conveyance of clear title to real property is an essential element of both a stable and prosperous civil society. “Clearing” title by conveying “unappropriated” lands to a central government is one way that fledgling or developing nations spur exploration, settlement, and development of lands.  Such was the issue in the 1823 Supreme Court Case, Green v. Biddle, 21 US 1 (1823), wherein the conveyance of certain unappropriated lands from Virginia to the federal government resulted in confusion when much of that land was used to create the state of Kentucky.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter  

At times during our nation’s history, the executive branch of the United States government has tested the limits of its power by taking actions that are not explicitly granted to the president or executive branch.  For example, in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (the “Steel Seizure Case”) (1952), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of executive power during emergencies in the absence of express statutory or Constitutional authority.  The Supreme Court decision spans more than 140 pages, including Justice Hugo Black’s opinion for the majority, holding that President Harry S. Truman had exceeded the limits of the president’s power, as well as concurring opinions from each of the five members of the Court agreeing with Black’s conclusions, and a long dissent by the Chief Justice. The decision and bases for the Steel Seizure Case are hard to discern from the six opinions written to support the majority.  Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence is often cited to assess the limits of executive power, as it sets forth a categorization that is the most comprehensible of the six opinions.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

The three branches of the United States government are often questioned with respect to whether their exercise of powers exceeded the limitations imposed upon them by the United States Constitution. In U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936), the issue was the extent of the president’s and executive branch’s power to conduct the foreign affairs of the United States. The decision has been recognized as a very influential one, establishing the president’s supremacy when it comes to foreign affairs.

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Guest Essayist: Joe Postell

Can Congress give away its legislative powers to other branches of government, including administrative agencies?  In the case of Field v. Clark, the Supreme Court decisively said “no,” laying down a precedent that stands against much of what our government does today.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

In May, 1818, James William McCulloch was a cashier at the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States.  McCulloch issued a series of bank notes on which the bank did not pay a Maryland state tax.  The state treasurer quickly sued to recover the money and won a judgment in Maryland’s highest court. The Supreme Court soon accepted the case, which would have a profound impact in defining the principle of federalism, the reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, and the national vision of the Marshall Court.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Ex parte McCardle was forged in the superheated atmosphere of Southern reconstruction after the Civil War. The struggle to shape that reconstruction pitted the “Radical” Republicans (representing the pre-war abolitionist wing) against moderates within the party. Democrats, reduced to a rump faction, could do little more than get out of the way and, if palatable, delicately offer support to the Republican moderates. The political and constitutional fault line cut between the restrained Lincoln-Johnson presidential reconstruction based on maintaining the existing federalism, but with abolition of slavery, and the program of congressional radicals to treat the South as a conquered province reduced to territorial status, prostrate before Northern arms and to be cleansed of the twin stains of slavery and secession by stripping the erstwhile states of their old constitutional privileges.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

On June 19, 1846, the Rochester, New York, Democrat newspaper reported that over 4,000 people assembled to witness the launch of a new steamship (then often called a “propeller” due to the novel screw propulsion mechanism), the Genesee Chief. She was described as “faultless in her model and appointments.” At 144 feet long, with 20 state rooms, and berths for 75 cabin and 100 steerage passengers, with room for more, she was to be the start of regular steamship service between Rochester and Chicago.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Justice Joseph Story: The Youngest Justice Appointed to the Court

Most lawyers in private practice at the age of 32 are preparing for potential consideration for, and transition to, partnership.  At that same age, after a distinguished government and law firm career in Boston, Joseph Story took his seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1811, becoming the 18th Justice of the Supreme Court and the youngest justice appointed to the Supreme Court.  Story served on the Court for almost thirty-four years, writing a large number of opinions and dissents.  His tenure coincided with those of two of the longest serving Chief Justices in the Supreme Court’s history, John Marshall and Roger B. Taney.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Section 34 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 provides that “the laws of the several states, except where the Constitution, treaties or statutes of the United States shall otherwise recognize or provide” were to be applied and followed “as rules of decision in trials at common law.” George Swift, a Maine resident, was assigned a bill of exchange from John Tyson in New York.  The bill was dishonored when it became due, and Swift brought a diversity action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking payment.  New York common law held that bills of exchange could not be assigned, and the federal court found in Tyson’s favor on that basis.  Swift appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and the main issue before the court was whether the reference to “the laws of the several states” in Section 34 included common law decisions as well as enacted statutes.

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Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Over the years, the Supreme Court has addressed several constitutional topics in cases involving lotteries. Perhaps none is as significant as Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in Cohens v. Virginia. The case was the third major act in a decades-long contest over the nature of the Union and, more specifically, over the constitutional relationship between federal and state laws and between the federal and state judiciaries. On the last point the contest directly involved repeated clashes between the United States Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals (the state supreme court), and between two dominant jurists, Marshall and the chief judge of Virginia, Spencer Roane. Cohens v. Virginia is the climax in the story of those two rivals.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

Marbury v. Madison (1803) – A Landmark Decision Establishing The Supreme Court’s Role

In an effort to fill the Chief Justice vacancy on the Supreme Court before leaving office, President John Adams offered the position to John Jay, who declined, citing the lack of dignity and respect of the Supreme Court.  Secretary of State John Marshall was with Adams when Adams received Jay’s rejection letter and, with time running out, Adams offered Marshall the Chief Justice position, which Marshall accepted. The Senate confirmed Marshall on January 27, 1801, and he became Chief Justice.  However, a Democratic-Republican Party-led Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (aka the “Midnight Judges Act”) and subsequently replaced it with the Judiciary Act of 1802, causing the Supreme Court to be on hiatus from December 1801 until February 1803.

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Guest Essayist: William Morrisey

Introduction: Why Study the Landmark Decisions?

What does it mean to “constitute” America?

How would anyone do that? And why?

And what is “America,” anyway?

“America can mean simply the “New World”—the two American continents, “new to the late-Renaissance Europeans who stumbled upon them en route to China, if not to the Asian settlers who’d lived here for centuries. In that sense, hundreds of millions of Americans now live in dozens of countries, under several distinctive forms of government.

Given the prominent display of the Stars-and-Stripes flag on the Constituting America website, no one reading these words will imagine “America” to mean that, here. We mean the United States of America, a particular country in America, which declared its independence, its self-government, from an empire ruled from Europe. To assert self-government requires one to establish the terms and conditions by which that government will proceed. By leaving home, a young man or woman declares independence from parents: Very well then, but how will you live, under your newfound self-rule? You say you want to live at liberty, pursuing happiness, but what’s your plan? Read more


The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions And The Justices Who Made Them



Marbury v. Madison (1803) – Justice of the Peace William Marbury versus Jefferson’s Secretary of State James Madison who was not allowed to deliver commissions for judicial appointments: Boundary between constitutionally separate executive and judicial branch powers.

Chief Justice John MARSHALL (1755-1835) Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Cohens v. Virginia (1821) – Brothers Philip and Mendes Cohen were convicted of selling National Lottery tickets in Virginia.  The two argued that this violated “free flow of commerce” as stated in the Constitution.

Swift v. Tyson (1842) – George Swift received a bill of exchange which was fraudulently obtained by John Tyson.  After the courts in New York decided in favor of Tyson due to New York State law, Swift appealed to the Supreme Court: Federal courts and state common law.

Justice Joseph STORY (1779-1845) – Served 33 years on the Supreme Court.

Propeller Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh (1851) – Following a collision on Lake Ontario, there were questions of which courts had jurisdiction.

Ex parte McCardle (1869) – William H. McCardle, a newspaper editor who wrote critical articles about the Military Reconstruction Act, was arrested.  He claimed that both the Act and his prosecution were unconstitutional: Congress and Supreme Court appellate review of habeas corpus.



McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – After Congress chartered the Second National Bank of the United States, the state of Maryland passed a law imposing taxes on that bank. James McCulloch, a teller for the bank, refused to pay the tax: Commerce Clause; constitutionality in creation of the Second Bank of the United States; federal law and state law.

Field v. Clark (1892) – Regarding duties collected on goods imported by Marshall Field & Company, John M. Clark, tax collector, argued that the Tariff Act of October 1, 1890 was actually a law even though it was passed by Congress: Presidential powers, and challenges to laws.



U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Exports (1936) – When Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation violated an embargo, to prohibit trade, enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it argued that the President should not have been given this power: Congress and lawmaking authority to the President.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952) – Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company versus Commerce Secretary Charles Sawyer: Congress, the Constitution, and presidential power to issue an order.



Fletcher v. Peck (1810) – After it was determined that the Georgia legislature took bribes for the passage of the Yazoo Land Act, the new legislature repealed the act and voided all sales coming from it. Robert Fletcher sued John Peck for selling him land with no clear title: Contract Clause of the Constitution.

Green v. Biddle (1823) –When Kentucky became an independent state, it signed a compact with Virginia to protect property rights. Kentucky then passed a law that impaired this compact, causing a dispute over ownership of the property: John Green versus Richard Biddle and the Contracts Clause of the Constitution on public and private agreements.

Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Company (1829) – When Thomas Willson broke through a dam built by the Black Bird Creek Marsh Company, the company sues as it was authorized to build the dam by Delaware law.  Willson argued that the dam was in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and that he had a constitutional right to navigate coastal streams.

Barron v. Baltimore (1833) – When the city of Baltimore diverted the flow of streams to aid in street construction, it damaged Barron’s wharf.  John Barron sued the mayor of Baltimore, claiming that the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fifth Amendment, applied to states as well regarding just compensation for private property takings for public use.

Craig v. Missouri (1830) – In 1821, the state of Missouri printed money to loan to farmers.  When Hiram Craig defaulted on his loan, he was sued by the state to force payment.  It was argued that states issuing bills of credit unconstitutional in the first place.

Briscoe v. Bank of Kentucky (1837) – After Kentucky authorized a state owned bank to issue bills of credit, the bank loaned bills to Briscoe. When he failed to pay, the bank sues him. Briscoe claimed that the bank, and therefore Kentucky, had violated Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution.

Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) – In 1785, the Charles River Bridge Company was granted a charter to construct a bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Years later, the state of Massachusetts allowed the Warren Bridge Company close to the Charles River Bridge.  The Charles River Bridge Company claimed that it had exclusive rights to build a bridge and that the contract with Massachusetts had been violated.

Cooley v. Pennsylvania Board of Wardens (1852) – In 1803, Pennsylvania enacted a law that regulated pilots of ships. Aaron Cooley violated this law by entering the state’s harbor without the guidance of a local pilot. Cooley claimed this was unconstitutional.

Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) – After Edward Prigg was convicted in Pennsylvania of capturing and returning a slave from Maryland, he appealed, arguing that the Pennsylvania law making his actions illegal was in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Ableman v. Booth (1859): Sherman Booth was arrested by U.S. Marshal Stephen Ableman for rescuing an escaped slave in Wisconsin. When Booth was freed because the Wisconsin state government refused to recognize the authority of the federal courts, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Texas v. White (1869) – George W. White, the State of Texas, and the constitutionality of secession from the Union.



Gelpcke v. Dubuque (1863) – After a city government in Iowa refused to honor railroad tax bonds, Herman Gelpcke and other bondholders sued, in federal court, the City of Dubuque in an attempt to recover interest on the bonds.

Euclid v. Ambler Realty (1926) – In order to prevent the Village of Euclid, Ohio, from growing too large, the village developed zoning laws. Ambler Realty’s property was divided into three classes, therefore hindering it from developing the land for industry. Ambler Realty sues, arguing that the zoning laws deprived it of its property without due process.

Justice George SUTHERLAND (1862-1942) – Served 15 years on the Supreme Court.

San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973) – Demetrio Rodriguez and other members of the Edgewood Concerned Parent Association in Texas, involving the San Antonio Independent School District, brought forward a suit claiming that the state’s method of school financing violated the assertion of equal protection under the law.



Baker v. Carr (1962) – The Tennessee State Constitution required that legislative districts be redrawn every ten years. Former Mayor Charles Baker argued that this had not been done since 1901, resulting in unfair representation. Tennessee Secretary of State Joe Carr was sued since he was ultimately responsible for conduct of elections and publication of district maps. The state courts sided with the state of Tennessee, and it was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court.



Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad v. Chicago (1897) – When the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad Company was only awarded one dollar for the Chicago city council appropriating the right of way for its property, the railroad company appealed.  The City of Chicago argued that due process of law only required allowing the railroad company’s case to be heard.



New Jersey v. Wilson (1812) – In 1758, the New Jersey legislature made an agreement with the Delaware Indians, giving them a portion of land which could never be sold or taxed. In 1801, the Indians were given permission to sell the land, and in 1804 the legislature repealed the land’s tax exemption. It was argued that the land purchaser has “all the rights of the Indians.”

Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819) – Dartmouth College was chartered in 1769 by King George III. In 1816, after the revolution, New Hampshire’s legislature attempted to alter the charter and make the privately funded school, public. The existing trustees filed suit against William Woodward, the new appointed secretary under the new charter, claiming that the legislature violated the Constitution.

U.S. v. E.C. Knight (1895) – In 1892, the American Sugar Refining Company acquired E.C. Knight Co. and other sugar companies, resulting in a 98% monopoly of the sugar refining industry. President Grover Cleveland advised the national government, also known as the “Sugar Trust Case,” to sue the E.C. Knight Company under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to prevent this. The company argued that the government could not regulate the manufacturing of goods through the antitrust or “competition law,” but could only regulate distribution of goods.

Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897) – In an attempt to protect its citizens from deceitful companies, the state of Louisiana passed a law prohibiting out-of-state insurance companies from conducting business in the state without being authorized by the state. When the E. Allgeyer & Company of Louisiana violated this statute and purchased insurance from New York, Allgeyer claimed that this law violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Champion v. Ames (1903) – Charles Champion was indicted for shipping Paraguayan lottery tickets from Texas to California under the Federal Lottery act, which prohibited the sales of lottery tickets across state lines.  Champion claimed that the power to regulate commerce does not include the power to prohibit commerce.

Nebbia v. New York (1934) – After Leo Nebbia was fined for violating the price regulations for milk set by the New York state legislature, he challenged the conviction by arguing that the regulations violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Home Building and Loan v. Blaisdell (1934) – During the Great Depression, Minnesota extended the time available for people to redeem their mortgages from foreclosure.  Lenders argued that this violated Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution which prohibits a state from “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”

Gold Clause Cases (1935) – The Supreme Court decided upon whether Congress’ joint resolution to cancel all gold clauses in public and private contracts was constitutional.

Schecter v. U.S. (1935) – The Supreme Court decided upon whether the National Industrial Recovery Act, a main part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, was constitutional.

Justice Louis D. BRANDEIS (1856-1941) – Served 22 years on the Supreme Court.

Carter v. Carter Coal (1936) – Carter, a shareholder of the Carter Coal Company, argued that the Bituminous Coal Conservation Act, which regulated the coal mining industry, was unconstitutional, as coal mining is not interstate commerce.

National Labor Relations Board v. Jones and Laughlin Steel (1937) – After the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Jones and Laughlin Steel for discrimination, the company refused to comply with the ruling, stating that the act was unconstitutional.

National League of Cities v. Usery (1976) – The National League of Cities sued claiming that the Fair Labor Standards act, specifically the requirement of states to pay employees a new minimum wage and overtime, was unconstitutional.

Wickard v. Filburn (1942) – Filburn, a farmer in Ohio, was fined for violating a federal rule limiting wheat production.  Filburn sued, arguing that his local business could not be regulated under the constitution.

Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985) – When Congress failed to exempt state-owned mass transit systems from its minimum wage and overtime statutes, it was argued that this violated state’s sovereignty granted to it under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.



In re Debs (1895) – In 1984, the president of the American Railway Union was involved in the Pullman Strike.  When the government ordered the strikers to return back to work because the strike turned violent, Debs challenged the federal government’s ability to intervene.

Justice David J. BREWER (1837-1910) – Served 20 years on the Supreme Court.

Holden v. Hardy (1898) – The state of Utah passed a law limiting the number of hours one could work in a smelter or mine.  It was argued whether or not this law was constructional.

Lochner v. New York (1905) – New York law prohibited a bakery employee from working more than ten hours a day and sixty hours a week. It was argued that this law was in violation of “freedom of contract” under the due process clause.

Adair v. U.S. (1908) – William Adair was indicted after he fired a railroad employee for belonging to a labor union, which was a direct violation of the Erdman Act of 1898.  Adair argued that the ban on forbidding workers from joining labor unions was unconstitutional.

Coppage v. Kansas (1915) – Coppage, an employer, forbade his employees from joining labor unions.  Such anti-union contracts were prohibited by Kansas state law.  Coppage argued that this law violated his due process rights.

Justice Mahlon Pitney (1858-1924) Served 10 years on the Supreme Court.



Sturges v. Crowninshield (1819) and Ogden v. Saunders (1827) – It was argued whether or not state bankruptcy laws violated the Constitution, as the Constitution grants that power to Congress.

Legal Tender Cases – These cases decided upon whether legal tender in the form of paper money violated the Constitution.

Pollock v. Farmers Loan and Trust (1895) – Pollock owned stock in the Farmers Loan and Trust Company.  When the company announced that it would comply and pay the taxes under the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, he sued, claiming that the law was unconstitutional..



Ex parte Vallandigham (1864), and Ex parte Milligan (1866) – These cases decided upon when a person should be tried in a military tribunal and when a person should be tried in civilian courts under the Constitution.

Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad v. Minnesota (1890) – When the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to overturn a regulatory agency’s set railroad rates, it was appealed to the Supreme Court.  The companies argued that the rates were set without due process of law.

Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) – These cases argued civil liberties in education, claiming that these regulations violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Palko v. Connecticut (1937) – Following being sentenced to both first-degree and second-degree murder, Palko appealed, claiming that the Fifth Amendment protecting against double jeopardy applied to state governments, as well.



Furman v. Georgia (1972) – This case argued whether or not the death penalty is considered cruel and unusual punishment.



Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) – When Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom, it was argued that he had no right to sue in federal courts, as slaves were not considered citizens.

Ex parte Merryman (1861) – Lieutenant John Merryman was arrested, charged with, among other things, various acts of treason. He requested a writ of habeas corpus, and a hearing. In U.S. legal history, this is an American Civil War case contesting the president’s power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during a national emergency and for public safety.

Chief Justice Roger TANEY (1777-1864) Served 28 years on the Supreme Court.

The Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) – When a city in Louisiana attempted to regulate and take over the slaughterhouse industry, butchers sued on the grounds of due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice Stephen J. FIELD (1816-1899) Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Civil Rights Cases (1883) – It was argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 violated the Constitution because Congress did not have the authority to regulate private matters.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – Argued that segregation laws were unconstitutional, even if segregated facilities were “separate but equal.”

Justice John Marshall HARLAN (1833-1911) – Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

The Insular Cases (1901) – Argued how to govern U.S. territories, as nothing was specifically said about it in the Constitution.

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) – Determined whether or not Congress could regulate the sale of private property in an effort to prevent discrimination.

United States v. Carolene Products Co. (1938) – When Carolene Products Company violated a federal law prohibiting filled milk to be shipped in interstate commerce, the company argued that this law violated the Commerce Clause and on due process grounds.

Bolling v. Sharpe (1954) and Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) and Cooper v.

Aaron (1958) – Argued that school segregation was unconstitutional and that states are bound by the Supreme Court’s decisions.

Chief Justice Earl WARREN (1891-1974) – Served 15 years on the Supreme Court.

Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) and California v. Bakke (1978) and USWA v. Weber (1979) and Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980) – These cases argued the constitutionality of efforts to battle discrimination. 

Richmond v. J. Croson Company (1989) – Argued whether or not a city giving preference to minority businesses for municipal contracts was constitutional.



Establishment Clause:

Abrams v. United States (1919) – Argued whether inciting resistance to a war violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Justice Oliver Wendell HOLMES, Jr. (1841-1935) – Served 29 years on the Supreme Court.

Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Everson v. Ewing (1962) – Decided on whether or not promoting a particular religion in schools in unconstitutional.

Freedom of Speech:

Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Bradenburg v. Ohio (1969) – Argued whether or not being convicted for speech that promotes anarchy, violence, or terrorism violates an individual’s right to free speech.

Chief Justice William Howard TAFT (1857-1930) – Served 8 years on the Supreme Court.

Dennis v. United States (1951) – Dennis, General Secretary of the Communist Party USA, was convicted for speech plotting to overthrow the government.  It was argued that this conviction is a violation of the First Amendment.

Justice Hugo BLACK (1886-1971) – Served 34 years on the Supreme Court.

Freedom of the Press:

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) – Argued whether or not Alabama’s law on libel, by not requiring a person to prove harm violates an individual’s right to free speech.

Justice William J. BRENNAN, Jr. (1906-1997) – Served 33 years on the Supreme Court.



Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – It was argued that a Connecticut law banning forms of contraceptives violated an individual’s right to privacy.

Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey (1992) – Determined whether aspects of abortion laws violated an individual’s right to privacy.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) – These cases argued civil rights for homosexuals and whether or not laws infringing on these rights violated the Constitution.

Justice Antonin SCALIA (1936-2016) – Served 30 years on the Supreme Court.



Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832) – These cases dealt with government authority for relations with the Native American nations.



Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) – The court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, approving for the first time a prohibition of a specific abortion procedure.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) – The court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment provides an individual right of gun ownership, unrelated to militia service.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

McDonald v. Chicago (2010) – Application to the states of the right to keep and bear arms.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Bush v. Gore (2000) and Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board (2000) – The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Florida’s court-ordered manual recount of vote ballots in the 2000 presidential election, between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, was unconstitutional.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas. Dissenters: Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008) – The court ruled Indiana’s requirement that voters show a photo id does not violate the Constitution.

Vote: (6 to 3) Majority: Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – The court agreed corporations and unions could make unlimited independent expenditures in campaigns, saying restrictions violated free speech.

Vote: (5 to 4) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Dissenters: Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor.

Justice Anthony KENNEDY (born 1936) – Began serving on the Supreme Court February 1988.

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that federal discrimination laws do not apply to religious organizations’ selection of religious leaders.

Vote: (8-0) Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.



The United States Supreme Court: Landmark Decisions And The Justices Who Made Them


Guest Essayist: Professor William Morrisey

Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.

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Guest Essayist: Juliette Turner


Barack Obama: Forty-Fourth President of the United States

Nickname: The First African-American President

Terms in Office: 2009-2013; 2013-present

Fast Stats

  • Born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Parents: Barack Obama Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro
  • Barack Obama is still living and in office
  • Age upon Start of First Term: 47; Age upon Conclusion of First Term: 51
  • Age upon Start of Second Term: 51
  • Religious Affiliation: Congregationalist (Protestant)
  • Political Party: Democrat
  • Height: 6 feet 1 inch
  • Vice President: Joseph Biden

Bottom Line

President Obama is the current president of the United States and is serving his second term in office. Obama passed his landmark legislation, the Affordable Care Act; oversaw the capture and death of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden; and enforced a multibillion dollar stimulus in an attempt to help the economy. He has struggled with a scandal regarding the surveillance of the American people by the federal government and an ever-growing debt and deficit.

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Guest Essayist: The Honorable John N. Hostettler


Congress Sets Times for Electors

Article II, Section 1. Clause 4:

The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Title 3, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code describes the timeframe for the choosing of and voting by members of the Electoral College.

Sec. 1: The electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November, in every fourth year succeeding every election of a President and Vice President.18

Sec. 7: The electors of President and Vice President of each State shall meet and give their votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their appointment at such place in each State as the legislature of such State shall direct.19 [emphasis added]

Choosing Electors: A Case Study

The presidential election of 2000 provided an excellent insight into the practical application of the Constitution’s provision for choosing electors for that office. After the polls closed on November 7, 2000, attention soon turned to the state of Florida and a growing controversy over punch-card ballots used in a few of its counties. The combined count of the electors from all of the states presumed to be assigned to the Democrat candidate Albert Gore, Jr. Republican candidate George W. Bush indicated that the race was going to be close that the results of the popular vote for president in Florida would determine the outcome of the race. This was due to the fact that the assignment of electors would be determined by that popular vote.

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Guest Essayist: Brian Chilton


At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” to which Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The 1996 presidential election cycle and the twenty years hence have demonstrated the fragility of Franklin’s “If.”

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Guest Essayist – Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Grand Rapids Economic Club and the National Constitutional Center hosted “Our Constitution Works: President Ford’s Date with Destiny” on October 20, 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following is a partial transcript of the videotaped panel discussion. Used with permission.

Doug DeVos, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation Trustee, National Constitution Center Trustee and former Chair of the Grand Rapids Economic Club hosted the event. Steve Ford, son of Gerald & Betty Ford, illustrated his father’s belief in the pardon decision by retelling the story in which he personally asked his father about the pardon.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams


JFK, Catholicism, and the 1960 Election

The American Founding ushered in a “new order for the ages” that included the unprecedented and remarkable natural right of liberty of conscience.  The First Amendment protected this universal right of all humans and banned Congress from establishing an official religion.  The Constitution also banned all religious tests for national office.

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Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper


Communism and Civil Liberties: The Election of 1952

The election of 1952 brought about the first GOP presidential victory in more than 20 years.  It came about at a time while many in America were weary from World War II, and they were very apprehensive about the potential for subversion by the Soviet Union and its radical Marxist ideology.

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Guest Essayist: Tony Williams


In 1932, the U.S. economy reached its nadir during the Great Depression.  Unemployment had risen to more than 20 percent, or 11 million Americans, matched by a similar number of the underemployed as factories and businesses closed their doors.  Banks were closing at an alarming rates as people instantly lost their life savings.  Hundreds of thousands of farmers and urban dwellers alike were suffering forecloses and lost their homes.  Breadlines were long and strained the resources of private charities and local governments.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter


The Election of 1920: The Sedition Act, Eugene Debs, and the “Red Scare”

Eugene V. Debs was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a frequent Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.  Debs became a well-known socialist both through his political activity and as a result of the government’s criminal prosecution of his activities.  Other essays in this series cover the numerous Presidential elections in which Debs ran, as well as the other candidates in the 1920 Presidential election. This essay focuses on the Sedition Act of 1918, Debs, and the “Red Scare.”

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter


The 1916 Presidential election pitted incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson against Republican Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes.  The election was a very close one and had significant ramifications for the “progressive” movement.

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Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath


Dissenting from the Supreme Court’s 1905 opinion in Lochner v. New York that found unconstitutional a maximum-hour law for bakery employees, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., declared, “[A] constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire.” Holmes’s point is valid at least to the extent that the Framers–most of whom adhered to the then-dominant mercantilism–did not encrypt the grand contours of a particular system of political economy in the Constitution’s provisions aligning and balancing individual liberties and governmental powers. Yet, the Constitution also protects personal rights whose exercise is more likely to be realized in a political system premised on fundamentally liberal (in the classic meaning) conceptions of the role of the government and the individual’s relationship to the State than in a system that rests on a different view of such essential matters.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter


The 1908 Presidential election featured the incumbent Republican President Theodore Roosevelt following through on his promise to not seek a third term and encouraging the Republicans to nominate Secretary of War William Howard Taft.  While a number of third party candidates ran against Taft, the only non-Republican candidate who garnered any significant votes was the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan had been the Democratic nominee for President in 1896 and 1900, but the 1908 election was the most lopsided of his three defeats in the race for President.

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Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter


The United States Constitution is silent on the subject of corporations.    After the Civil War, as American society began to quickly evolve from agrarian to industrial, politicians from both major parties raised concerns about the rise of corporations, banks, and businesses, and the need for protection of the individual.  Against this backdrop, two important political figures emerged on the national scene.  William Jennings Bryan was a leader of the Populist Party (which would merge with the Democratic Party in 1896) who unsuccessfully ran for President in 1896, 1900 and 1908.  Republican President Theodore Roosevelt proposed a number of “progressive” initiatives through his “Square Deal” program and other policies and positions.  Other essays in this series cover the various Presidential elections in which Bryan and Roosevelt were their parties’ nominees. This essay compares the progressive and populist views of Roosevelt and Bryan, respectively.

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Guest Essayist: Steven Aden


“The Most Absurd Political Campaign of Our Time”:  Teddy Roosevelt, Alton Parker and the Election of 1904

The candidates who squared off in the presidential election of 1904, Republican President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Democrat Alton Parker, were both native to New York State; beyond that one commonality, they were a study in contrasts.  Parker was tall and rangy, but with a tentative demeanor that seemed to apologize for looming over others.  Parker resigned his post as the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, to run for the nation’s highest office.  True to his calling and by all accounts a thoughtful decision maker on the bench, Parker was quiet and professorial, and an unimpressive speechmaker with a voice like a cracked reed.   The barrel-chested, bull-voiced Roosevelt, on the other hand, had been tapped for the vice presidency by William McKinley on the strength of his renown as the Rough Rider who led his troops up San Juan Hill in 1898, as if he had carried the country on his shoulders to victory in the Spanish-American War.  The living embodiment of the national will that found its expression in “Manifest Destiny” and the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt was arguably the most physical president America has ever had.  Sometimes overcome by pent-up energy, Roosevelt would jump up from his seat in the Oval Office and hike in a straight line for five miles, climbing, jumping, and swimming all barriers natural or manmade he encountered on the way.  This exercise exhausted the few staffers and security officers who could keep up with him, but Roosevelt would return refreshed and invigorated.

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Guest Essayist: David J. Shestokas


“Tell them to obey the laws and uphold the Constitution.”
Stephen A. Douglas, deathbed instructions for his sons, June 3, 1861[1]

Stephen Douglas’ instruction to his sons to uphold the Constitution should have been quite clear. He had spent three decades in public life, including 18 years in the United States Congress. He had given hundreds if not thousands of speeches on the critical constitutional issues of his day:  organization and admission of new states and the regulation of slavery in territories purchased from France and won in war with Mexico.

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