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Looking Back - Feb. 3, 2013

History column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

When a case is carried all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the decision made by the justices many times leaves a lasting mark on the lives of Americans. Here is a look back at just a few cases...and a few fun facts.

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

“A law repugnant to the Constitution is void.” With these words, Chief Justice John Marshall established the Supreme Court’s role in the new government. Hereafter, the court was recognized as having the power to review all acts of Congress where constitutionality is at issue, and judge whether they abide by the Constitution.

Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923)

Court opinion held that federal minimum wage legislation for women was an unconstitutional infringement of liberty of contract, as protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The decision was overturned in 1937 in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish. The court found that the state of Washington’s minimum wage law for women was a valid regulation of the right to contract freely because of the state’s special interest in protecting their health and ability to support themselves.

Buck v Bell (1927)

The Court ruled that a Virginia statute permitting compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the mentally retarded, “for the protection and health of the state” did not violate the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment. While Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) did not specifically overturn Buck v. Bell, it created enough of a legal quandary to discourage many sterilizations. By 1963, sterilization laws were almost wholly out of use, though some remained officially on the books for many years. Virginia’s state sterilization law was repealed in 1974.

Hale v Kentucky (1938)

The case overturned the conviction of an African-American man accused of murder because the lower court of Kentucky had systematically excluded African Americans from serving on the jury. NAACP counsel, including Charles H. Houston, Leon A. Ransom and Thurgood Marshall, represented Joe Hale.

One Inc. v. Olesen (1958)

“ONE: The Homosexual Magazine” began printing in 1953. After a campaign of harassment from the U.S. Post Office Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the postmaster of Los Angeles declared the October 1954 issue obscene, and therefore unmailable. The court overruled a lower court, holding that pro-homosexual writing is not per se obscene.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Estelle Griswold, the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, broke an 1879 Connecticut law banning contraception. The court struck down the law, making it a landmark case in which the court read the Constitution to protect individual privacy and a right to privacy in matters of contraception between married people.

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

The court found that Amish children could not be placed under compulsory education past 8th grade. The parents’ fundamental right to freedom of religion outweighed the state’s interest in educating its children.

San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973)

In 1968, a group of low-income parents sued San Antonio, claiming the city’s wealthy precincts had better schools. The court upheld the districting plan, saying that the Constitution did not guarantee an education and upholding this tenet: The Constitution does not compel government to provide services like education or welfare to the people.

Jenkins v Georgia (1974)

A theater in Albany, Ga., showed the film, “Carnal Knowledge.” On Jan. 13, 1972, the Albany police served a search warrant on the theater and seized the film. In March 1972, the theater manager (Billy Jenkins) was convicted of the crime of “distributing obscene material.” His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court of Georgia. On June 24, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the state of Georgia had gone too far in classifying material as obscene and overturned the conviction.

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Johnson burned a flag in front of a Dallas building in 1984. He was convicted of violating a Texas law that made it a crime to intentionally desecrate a state or national flag. The court held, however, in a 5-to-4 majority, that “Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Just the facts...

• During the Supreme Court’s first term (1790), it had no docket and made no decisions.

• When the nation’s capital moved to Washington, D.C., in 1800, the highest court did not have a courtroom. Construction on the court’s own building was not completed until 1935.

• In the beginning, the chief justice’s salary was $4,000, while associate justices made $3,500. By 2010, the chief justice’s salary had risen to $223,500, with associate justices receiving $213,900.

• George Washington appointed the most Supreme Court justices (11). Only Franklin D. Roosevelt came close, with nine appointments. Jimmy Carter is the only president to serve a full term without nominating a Supreme Court justice.

• The top floor of the Supreme Court building houses a gym, including a basketball court dubbed “the highest court in the land.”