Landmark Supreme Court Cases

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DRED SCOTT VS. SANDFORD (1857) BACKGROUND: Dred was purchased as a slave in Missouri, was moved several times by his owner (John) to non-slave states, then back to Missouri. Dred's owner died, but left Dred under possession of his wife (Irene). Dred sued Irene for his freedom. He believed he was not a slave because he lived in states where slaves were prohibited.

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DECISION: -The Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott was not a "citizen of the state", so they had no jurisdiction is the matter. Majority- Delivered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, he said that slaves were not recognized as citizens in the constitution and therefore had no rights. Dissenting- Delivered by Justice McLean; he said slaves did have rights under the states and should be free, considering his master let him live in a free state.

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"We think they [people of African ancestry] are not [citizens], and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States." - Chief Justice Roger B. Taney

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"Being born under our Constitution and laws, no naturalization is required, as one of foreign birth, to make him a citizen. The most general and appropriate definition of the term citizen is "a freeman". Being a freeman, and having his domicile in a State different from that of the defendant, he is a citizen within the act of Congress, and the courts of the Union are open to him." - Justice McLean

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Overall Outcome: The ruling of this case angered the Northerners, because it basically said you could bring a slave anywhere including the free states, and further increased tensions between the North and South; it added to the problems that lead to the Civil War. The government was now realizing that slavery was an issue that needed to be solved, rather than trying to balance it out amongst the states.


MARBURY VS. MADISON (1803) BACKGROUND: When John Adams was president, his Secretary of State didn't deliver papers that commissioned William Marbury as Justice of the Peace. Then, when Thomas Jefferson sworn into office, he told James Madison to not deliver those papers as well. Marbury sued Madison asking the court to make Madison deliver the documents, so Marbury could be Justice of the peace.

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DECISION: -The Supreme Court ruled that Marbury was entitled to his commission, however, they did not have the authority to make Madison deliver the commission. Majority- Marbury had a right to his commission and his right has been violated and the laws of the country afford him a remedy.

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"Mr. Marbury, since his commission was signed by the president, and sealed by the secretary of state, was appointed... To withhold commission, therefore, is an act deemed by the court not warranted by law, but violative of a vested legal right." -Chief Justice John Marshall

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Overall Outcome: John Marshall's ruling set the Supreme Court's official stand as the third branch of the government, by establishing Judicial Review. His ruling let others know that the court was there to honor the constitution, and gave the court opportunity to rule any law unconstitutional and put an end to it.

ROE VS. WADE (1973):

ROE VS. WADE (1973) BACKGROUND: Jane Roe was an unmarried woman that was pregnant, and she lived in Texas where it was illegal to abort a child unless it was needed medically. Jane sued District Attorney Wade, stating the law violated guarantee of personal liberty and right to privacy implicit which was stated in 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th, & 14th amendments.

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DECISION: -The supreme court invalidated any state laws that prohibited abortions of the first trimester. Majority- Delivered by Mr. Justice Blackmun, Texas' law invaded a right of the woman protected by the 14th amendment. Dissenting- Delivered by Justice Rehnquist, states the 14th amendment protects privacy, however, abortion is not a "privacy thing" and shouldn't be included with the word "privacy" in the amendment.

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"The principal thrust of appellant's attack on the Texas statutes is that they improperly invade a right, said to be possessed by the pregnant woman, to choose to terminate her pregnancy." -Mr. Justice Blackmun

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"I have difficulty in concluding, as the Court does, that the right of "privacy" is involved in this case. Texas, by the statute here challenged, bars the performance of a medical abortion by a licensed physician on a plaintiff such as Roe." -Mr. Justice Rehnquist

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Overall Outcome: The Supreme Court not only opened a new women's right in Texas, but in the entire country. Furthering the woman's rights movement. This decision allows freedom of abortion today in the country.

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