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15th Amendment

15th Amendment

The 15th amendment protects the rights of Americans to vote in elections to elect their leaders. Specifically, it confirms the right to vote and lists conditions that are illegal to deny another person the right to vote. Any American cannot be denied the right to vote, based on race, color, or being a former slave.

The 15th amendment was important in that it not only finally gave African Americans the right to vote but also allowed the most African Americans in history to be elected into public office. Once in office, they pursued laws that provided schools for all children and allowed people of different races to be married.

After the US Army was pulled out of the South, white Southerners reasserted their power and passed laws that prevented those whose grandfathers had not been citizens from voting as well as making people pay to vote. This prevented African Americans from voting meaningfully in the South until much later in the 20th century. Therefore, even though the 15th amendment protected the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities, it was not until much later that the federal government stepped in to enforce it.

Before the 15th amendment

Before the 15th amendment and the Civil War, African Americans, even those who were not slaves, could not vote. The right to vote would imply that these men were citizens, which was not acceptable to Americans at the time. The Supreme Court case of Dred Scott v. Sanford set the rule for African Americans not voting and this rule was in place until the 15th amendment.

Let us look at the text of the amendment

Section 1

The right of citizens of the United States…

(The 14th amendment grants citizenship to all born in the United States and this amendment grants them the right to…)

…to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State…

(the federal or any state government may never take away this right)

…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

(all persons, regardless of their ethnicity, race or status as a former slave has the right to vote)

Section 2

The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article…

(The legislative branch, congress must enforce the 15th amendment)

…by appropriate legislation.

(by passing laws to protect the right to vote for the people mentioned in this amendment)

Problems with the 15th amendment

Many states were wary of the 15th amendment, mostly because they did not want Chinese and Irish immigrants to vote. In fact, California and Oregon would not ratify the amendment due to the large number of Chinese immigrants that lived there.

It was not until almost 90 years later that these states would ratify the 15th amendment. The 15th amendment passed, without the support of these states, in 1870 and these protections largely helped African Americans, as long as there were federal troops to protect them.

Barron v. Baltimore

Barron v. Baltimore

The Background: Barron V. Baltimore

Mr. John Barron was a resident of Baltimore, Maryland. He sued his home city because his business, which was located in Baltimore harbor, was damaged. The city of Baltimore passed an adjustment of water flow law which ended up cutting-off water to Mr. Barron’s property.

Because of the law, Mr. Barron’s boats were not able to properly dock in the harbor. The lack of water and the inability to dock resulted in his boats getting damaged. Barron sued Baltimore and was ultimately rewarded money to compensate for his damaged boats. However, the city appealed the ruling and brought the case to the United States Supreme Court.

The case of Barron V. Baltimore deals with eminent domain. This means that the government can repossess property owned by citizens in the event that the property taken is necessary for public use. The problem was, “public use” was not defined when this case was tried—Barron v. Baltimore took place in 1833!

The Case: Barron V. Baltimore

Mr. John Barron in Barron v. Baltimore said that the government’s use of eminent domain was a direct violation of the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 5th amendment states that the government must respect, maintain and uphold the legal rights of all American citizens and that the government must retain a person’s liberties and human rights.

Mr. Barron thought that is was unfair and illegal for the government to mess with his personal property. He thought that he should be repaid for the damages caused to his boats. The city of Baltimore thought that they were in their rights to restrict water supply. They thought that they were allowed to do this because it ultimately helped out the community.

The Verdict: Barron V. Baltimore

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Baltimore, stating that the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution was limited and only should be followed by the Federal government. The 5th Amendment does not state that it must be followed by all state and city governments in the United States. Because of the ruling in Barron V. Baltimore, the United States Supreme Court established that a individual citizen’s property was not susceptible to the regulation of the 5th Amendment.

Miller v. California

Miller v. California

Miller v. California: The Background

The case of Miller v. California involved a man named Marvin Miller, who was a part owner of a business that was considered to be lewd and sexual in nature. In the year of 1972, Mr. Marvin Miller started an advertising campaign where he distributed a ton of letters to citizens of California.

The majority of these individuals never requested this information and Mr. Miller ran into legal trouble when a mother and her child received one of Miller’s crude advertisements. The mother and child were highly offended by Mr. Miller’s advertisement. Shortly after receiving the publication, the mother filed a complaint to the California police department.

After reviewing the materials, the California police department was found guilty of distributing this information which was considered to be unsuitable for the general population. In response to the charges, Marvin Miller appealed the arrest and the fact that his material was considered “obscene.” In Miller v. California, Marvin Miller claimed that the arrest was a violation of his 1st Amendment Rights, which awards him the right to speak and express himself freely.

Miller v. California: The Case Profile

The case of Miller v. California took place on January 19th of 1972. The case was heard in the United States Supreme Court. The case was filed by Marvin Miller, because he claimed that he was unlawfully censored and arrested due to the fact that his materials were considered obscene by the California police department. The case of Miller v. California was decided on June 21st of 1973.

Miller v. California: The Verdict

The United States Supreme Court in Miller v. California ruled in favor of the state of California. The court found Marvin Miller guilty of the misdemeanor because the material was deemed unsuitable for the general population. The Supreme Court found that the material Miller was handing out and distributing to the public was not meant for children to see. Therefore, Miller’s 1st Amendment rights were trumped in this particular matter.

The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution allows citizens of the United States to engage in free speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of religion, and the right to assemble. These freedoms, however, are not awarded to an American citizen if the individual puts the general population in any sort of harm with their speech, assembly, press or religion.

The verdict of Miller v. California created the ‘Miller Test.’ This test is used to define what is considered obscene or unsuitable for the general public. The Miller Test will take a publication or any piece of art or communication and evaluate whether or not it is suitable for the public. It will look at how dirty it is or how it may offend people and decide whether or not it is protected by First Amendment Rights.

United States v. Lopez

United States v. Lopez

The United States v. Lopez: The Background

The United States v. Lopez case was the first United States Supreme Court case since the early 1930’s to create laws that limit Congress’s power.

The United States v. Lopez case begins with a man named Alfonzo Lopez. Mr. Lopez was a High School Senior in San Antonio, Texas.

On March 10th of 1992, Lopez carried a concealed handgun into school. The gun was loaded and Lopez had five backup rounds of ammunition tucked away in his jeans. When Lopez was confronted by police and school officials, he admitted to carrying the gun.

The very next day, Alfonzo Lopez was charged with violating federal laws which banned guns on all school properties in the United States. The law Alfonzo Lopez was accused of violating was called the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1990.

Alfonzo Lopez appealed his arrest by stating that the creation of the law was unconstitutional. Lopez claimed that the laws went beyond the power of the United States Congress; he believed that Congress was not allowed to create laws that essentially control the public school district.

Lopez’s first defense failed; the court ruled that Congress possessed the authority to regulate activities that affected schools throughout the United States.

Alfonzo Lopez was convicted of carrying a weapon on school grounds. He appealed the initial court decision and brought his case to the Fifth Circuit of Appeals. Lopez again claimed that the Commerce Clause was a direct violation of the Constitution to the United States.

The Fifth Circuit overturned the original conviction by stating the charges and the law itself was beyond the power of Congress. In response to this decision, the United States government then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Government wanted the commerce laws to remain in effect.

The United States v. Lopez: The Trial

In the Supreme Court Case, United States v. Lopez, the United States Federal Government’s argument was that the possession of a firearm on or within an educational facility would likely lead to a violent crime.

A violent crime ultimately affects the condition of the school and the wellbeing of the population. Because of this, the government believed that the commerce clause should be upheld and practiced.

In the United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court backed the previous decision offered by the Court of Appeals. In United States v. Lopez, the United States Supreme Court stated that Congress has the broad power to make laws under the Clause, but these powers were limited and did not extend to the areas of the Lopez case.

The United States v. Lopez took place on November 8th, 1994. The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Alfonzo Lopez on April 26th of 1995.

16th Amendment

16th Amendment

A tax is money that is paid to the government and will be added when buying or owning something valuable. The 16th amendment is an important amendment that allows the federal (United States) government to levy (collect) an income tax from all Americans.

Income tax allows for the federal government to keep an army, build roads and bridges, enforce laws, and carry out other important duties.

The federal government realized in 1913 that in order for it to collect taxes effectively, and not have to share that tax money with the states, federal income tax was necessary. Other taxes, such as taxes on houses or other property are considered “direct” taxes by the Constitution and would have to be divided back among the states.

Let us look at the 16th amendment

The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes…

(Congress is allowed to collect some of the money earned by people working in the United States)

from whatever source derived…

(it doesn’t matter where the money is earned, as long as it is “income”)

without apportionment among the several States…

(there is no need to share the revenue with the states)

and without regard to any census or enumeration.

(the census, a count of all the people that live in the United States that happens every ten years, can’t be used as a basis for distributing taxes on people)

How did income tax start?

There was an income tax before the 16th amendment, and it was in effect during the Civil War. Anyone making more than $800 would be charged a tax of 3% and then eventually 3-5% on income over $600. This was actually a lot of money during the Civil War. This income tax ended in 1866.

The desire of Americans to pass an income tax on the rich was strong in 1909 when President William Taft proposed 2% of big businesses known as corporations. Following this lead, Congress wrote the 16th amendment and after agreeing on the rules of the amendment about income tax, sent to the states to be voted on. Although many northern states did not like the idea of an income tax in the 16th amendment, western states strongly supported it.

For the amendment to become part of the constitution, 36 states needed to ratify (approve) it. The 36th state to approve the 16th amendment was Delaware in 1931, almost four years after the first state, Alabama, ratified the 16th amendment in 1909.

The 16th amendment became part of the constitution after it was ratified and since then the federal government has collected taxes from Americans every year on their income (money earned). Income tax is charged on wages (money) earned from working a job, earnings from a business, dividends (money from stocks and investing), and rental property (charging someone to live in a building you own). The 16th amendment is effective here in that it specifically allows all income to be taxed.

Boumediene v. Bush

Boumediene v. Bush

Boumediene V. Bush: The Background

The case of Boumediene v. Bush dealt with something called habeas corpus. The case revolves around a man named Lakhdar Boumediene who was a naturalized citizen of Bosnia. Mr. Boumediene was placed in military prison by the United States Government at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Habeas corpus is a legal action which states that a prisoner in jail can be released if there is little evidence that says he should have been put in jail in the first place. Habeas corpus can be sought by the prisoner him/herself or by another body who comes to the prisoner’s aid.

So, if a prisoner enacts a habeas corpus, he or she will be taken out of jail and placed in a court. The courts will then review and determine whether the government or organization that put him in hail has the authority to do so. If the custodian does not have the power to detain the prisoner, then the prisoner will be released.

Guantanamo Bay is a scary military prison and is not formally a part of the United States of America. It is, however, rented by the United States from Cuba. The country of Cuba maintains control over the territory, while the United States simply exercises jurisdictional power over the prison.

The Trial: Boumediene V. Bush

On June 12th of 2008, Supreme Court Associate Justice Kennedy ruled for the 5-4 majority, stating that the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay had a right to habeas corpus according to the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court decided that the United States maintained its jurisdiction and control over the camp, while Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty over it. This ruling basically says that the prisoners of the base are enemy combatants and are thus entitled to habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus is protected in Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution. The ruling in Boumediene v. Bush reversed the lower court’s decision which said that constitutional rights should not be extended to prisoners of Guantanamo Bay.

The Verdict: Boumediene V. Bush

The verdict of Boumediene v. Bush stated that all prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, even those who were suspected of terrorism are allowed to question the reasoning behind their imprisonment. This ruling was administered because the Supreme Court stated the prison to within the United States Court System.

Miranda v. Arizona

Miranda v. Arizona

Miranda v. Arizona: The Background

The case of Miranda v. Arizona is a famous and important legal case. The decision of Miranda v. Arizona led to the creation of something very important that is practiced to this day.

The case of Miranda v. Arizona took place in the state of Arizona when a young man named Ernesto Miranda was arrested after being accused of raping a female in 1963. When Ernesto Miranda was apprehended he was given a piece of paper that asked for his formal confession. Miranda refused to sign the paper.

After this refusal, Miranda was interrogated by the police for over 2 hours. During the interrogation, Miranda confessed to the crime. However, Miranda’s legal aids (his lawyers and attorneys) argued that the arresting officers did not make the man aware of his rights at the time he was arrested.

In addition to this, the lawyers argued that the police neglected to advise Miranda of his right to remain silent so that he would not incriminate himself. The right to remain silent means that during the time of arrest the individual being arrested can keep quiet. This option allows the individual to avoid getting himself in trouble.

After he was charged with rape, Ernesto Miranda appealed the sentence and brought his case to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepted the case to review whether the police officers did not follow protocol and refused to inform the arrested man of his rights.

The foundation of the Miranda v. Arizona case is found in the Constitution. The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires suspects of crimes to be informed of their rights during an arrest, including the right to remain silent. In addition, the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that an individual be informed of their right to a fair hearing after they are arrested.

Miranda v. Arizona: The Case Profile

The case of Miranda v. Arizona took place in 1966 before the United States Supreme Court. During the case of Miranda v. Arizona, Ernesto Miranda was accused of rape and the state of Arizona was accused of violating Miranda’s constitutional rights. The case of Miranda v. Arizona was decided on June 13th of 1966.

Miranda v. Arizona: The Verdict

Chief Justice Earl Warren found in the case of Miranda v. Arizona that both Miranda’s 5th and 6th Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested. That being said, additional evidence that was placed on Ernesto Miranda affirmed his initial rape conviction.

Miranda ended up spending 11 years in prison; however, the case of Miranda v. Arizona made history. The Miranda rights are now included in the 5th Amendment, stating that all individuals retain the right to remain silent to avoid getting themselves in trouble at the time of arrest. Furthermore, the Miranda rights require that people arrested are made aware of all their rights, including their right to hire a lawyer or legal specialist.

17th Amendment

17th Amendment

Just like the President and our mayors and governors, we elect our senators to represent us in the United States Senate. The Senate is one of two houses (groups) in the US Congress.

There are two Senators for every state, for a total of 100. This system is to make sure that every state has an equal amount of representatives in this important law-making body.

Did you know that Americans were originally not allowed to vote for Senators? Believe it or not, the legislature of every state used to elect the state’s senators and the people would elect the Congressmen that serve in the House of Representatives. If you think this sounds unfair, many Americans in 1912 thought so too.

The 17th amendment provides for regular voters to elect their Senators. The reason for this is simple when we look at the process to become a Senator in 1912.The problem with letting representatives choose representatives is corruption. Corruption is breaking the law to get favors or better treatment for yourself or someone else.

Many of the Senators that were “elected” by the state legislatures had struck corrupt bargains with the legislature and many people were angry over the lack of choice they had. By the time the 17th amendment was proposed, almost thirty states were in favor of directly electing senators. The 17th amendment was proposed in 1912 and was completely ratified by 1913.

Text of the 17th amendment

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years…

(every state will have two Senators, and they will serve six-year terms in Congress.)

…and each Senator shall have one vote.

(one vote per senator, which now means 100 votes in total for our Senate)

The electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

(any person that can vote in state elections may vote for the senator of that state)

There is also this important paragraph in the 17 amendments:

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate,

(if a senator leaves office)

the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies

(the governor may appoint someone to fill that opening)

Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

(as long as the state allows the governor to do this)

Critics of the 17th amendment

Not everyone is in favor of the 17th amendment. States complain that their power to influence the federal government was taken away by the federal government. They could no longer have their interests represented in the legislature, as the Senators became disconnected from their state’s government, an arrangement that many states did not like. The popularity of the 17th amendment with the people was important though and that helped the 17th amendment survive all the way to today.

Bowers v. Hardwick

Bowers v. Hardwick

Bowers V. Hardwick: The Background

The case of Bowers v. Hardwick is very interesting. It all started when Mr. Hardwick was returning home after a night of drinking at a nearby bar. Mr. Hardwick was ultimately arrested for engaging in consensual love with another adult male.

When arrested, the Georgia police officers claimed he had violated restrictions within the state’s Sodomy Law.

The statutes within the state’s Sodomy Law stated that any sexual activity undertaken between two individuals of the same SEX. Men were not allowed to be sexual with other men and women were not allowed to be sexual with other women in the state.

Mr. Hardwick appealed his arrest, claiming that the law violates his constitutional rights.

Bowers V. Hardwick: The Trial

Mr. Hardwick was accused of illegally showing love for an individual of the same sex. Mr. Hardwick rejected these charges by claiming the law violated the Equality Clause, represented in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The date of Bowers—who was the Georgia State prosecutor—v. Hardwick took place on March 31st of 1986.

Hardwick was initially arrested and sentenced to jail for being intimate with another male. The case was upheld by the state courts and Mr. Hardwick was sent to jail. Angered by this court ruling, Mr. Hardwick appealed the decision and took his claim to the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Hardwick felt violated. The United States Constitution stated that all men were created equal; Mr. Hardwick felt that he should not be punished for being himself.

Bowers v. Hardwick: the Verdict

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Georgia, stating that the 14th Amendment should be applied to activities and events that did not exist in direct contrast to the traditional values expressed. The Supreme Court also stated that statutes addressing sodomy did not exist within the 14th Amendment.

The 14th Amendment prohibits the United States government from infringing on the rights for a citizen of the United States to pursue “life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland: The Background

The case of McCulloch v. Maryland was a groundbreaking Federal court case that dealt with the formation of a federal bank and a series of individual banks.

The case of McCulloch v. Maryland started through a series of important events that involved a number of laws. The following laws will allow you to understand what was going on with the McCulloch v. Maryland case.

In 1816, the United States Congress passed an Act that allowed Federal Banks to be located and to operate within individual states in the U.S. Two years later, in 1816, the state of Maryland passed an Act that placed all banks and financial institutions that operated in the state under the taxation model of Maryland.

This law thus made banks and other financial institutions in the state, including all federal banks, to pay Maryland state tax. A year after the passing of this law, McCulloch v. Maryland was heard.

McCulloch v. Maryland: The Case Profile

The case of McCulloch v. Maryland was heard in 1819. The case was tried in the Supreme Court of the United States. Andrew McCulloch was the defendant in McCulloch v. Maryland. McCulloch was the appointed manager of the Federal Bank located in Baltimore, Maryland. McCulloch refused to pay the state tax imposed by Maryland; he believed that federal banks were not subject to state taxation.

In McCulloch v. Maryland, the state was the plaintiff. The state of Maryland believed that the federal bank should pay state taxes because they were operating on their land and using their resources.

McCulloch v. Maryland: The Verdict

The United States Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland ruled in favor of the defendant, Andrew McCulloch. The United States Supreme Court in McCulloch v. Maryland ruled in favor of the defendant because the Necessary and Proper Clause of the United States Constitution stated that the Federal Government was permitted to operate banks within individual states without paying taxes.

The decision in McCulloch v. Maryland created a precedent; it led to a number of future decisions involving taxation issues and the federal government.