Culture War & the Supreme Court

Kasey Rodriguez

Agostini V. Felton (1997)

Court ruling: 5-4


A federal district court and court of appeals ruled against New York City stating that the city could not have public school teachers provide supplemental instruction to disadvantaged students at religious schools during regular school hours. Federal and State governments have continued to look for ways to support non-religious education in parochial schools without violating the First Amendment. The Education Consolidation and Improvement Act of 1981 provided federal funds to local educational agencies for the purchase of computers and other educational equipment to be lent to public and private schools for “secular, neutral, and nonideological programs.”

Baker V. Carr

Nashville, Tennessee denied voters of urban areas equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the 14th amendment. The federal court refused to enter the “political thicket” of State districting, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court held that federal courts have the power to determine the constitutionality of a State's voting districts. By holding that voters could challenge the constitutionality of electoral apportionment in federal court, Baker v. Carr opened the doors of the federal courts to a long line of apportionment cases. One year later, Douglas extended the Baker ruling by establishing the “one man, one vote” principle in Gray v. Sanders. In 1964, Wesberry v. Sandersextended that principle to federal elections, holding that “…as nearly as practicable, one man's vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's.”

Miranda V. Arizona

A kidnapping and sexual assault occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, in March 1963. On March 13 Ernesto Miranda, 23, was arrested in his home, taken to the police station, identified by the victim, and taken into an interrogation room. Miranda was not told of his rights to counsel prior to questioning. Two hours later, investigators emerged from the room with a written confession signed by Miranda. It included a typed disclaimer, also signed by Miranda, stating that he had “full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding any statement I make may be used against me,” and that he had knowingly waived those rights.

Two weeks later at a preliminary hearing, Miranda again was denied counsel. At his trial he did have a lawyer, whose objections to the use of Miranda's signed confession as evidence were overruled. Miranda was convicted of kidnapping and rape, and received a 20-year sentence.

Nixon V. Fitzgerald

Court ruling: 5-4

Ernest Fitzgerald claimed that he lost his employment with the air force because he gave testimony before. Congress, that was critical of his employer. He tried to add President Nixon as a defendant in his suit, but Nixon argued that a president cannot be sued for actions taken while in office. The Supreme Court noted that Nixon v. Fitzgerald gave the President “absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts,” but did not extend this immunity to actions that were clearly outside the scope of his presidential duties. The major rationale of Fitzgerald was to remove the possibility that the threat of litigation would make the President “unduly cautious in the discharge of his official duties.” Jones's allegations involved acts that allegedly occurred before Clinton became President, so Fitzgerald's reasoning did not apply and Jones should be allowed to bring her case.