Landmark Supreme Court Cases

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New Jersey v. T.L.O.

        At a New Jersey High School, specifically Piscataway High School, a teacher found two girls smoking cigarettes and proceeded to escort them to the principal's office. The first girl admitted to smoking but the second girl, T.L.O., denied smoking anything. The principal eventually searched the girl's purse and found cigarettes, marijuana, and a list with the names of fellow students who owed T.L.O. money. T.L.O. was charged with the possession of marijuana but before her trial, she moved to suppress evidence discovered in the search, and was denied by the Court. She was found guilty and sentenced to one year on probation by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County. The defendant appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division and they held the original Court's findings. After that, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the ruling, saying that the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment applies to searches and seizures conducted by school officials in public schools. Once it reached the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 6 to 3 ruling, ruled that Piscataway High School and the State of New Jersey had met a reasonableness standard for conducting such searches at school because students have a reduced expectation of privacy when in school.

        This case was an example of  judicial restraint because they upheld the ability of the administration to search and seize with probable cause. There was smoke in the bathroom, and only those two girls were in there. The Piscataway principle had every right to search her bag, it says so in the fourth amendment.

Gideon v. Wainwright

        Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in the State of Florida for breaking and entering with the intent to commit a misdemeanor, which is a felony under Florida Law. Gideon appeared to court without having an attorney, and in open court, he requested that the judge appoint counsel for him because he could not afford counsel. The judge denied the request because Florida law only allowed appointment of counsel for poor defendants charged with capital offenses. Gideon represented himself, cross-examined witnesses, presented witnesses, argued his innocence, and declined to testify himself. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Florida Supreme Court on the ground that the judge refused to appoint counsel for him, which violated his  constitutional rights, but he was denied. He then filed a handwritten petition to the Supreme Court of the United States, and they agreed to hear the case. The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously agreed to uphold the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel because it is a fundamental right to a fair trial, and this is applied through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (

        The Supreme Court of the United States ruling in this was judicial activism because they overturned a previous ruling, that being the ruling of Betts v. Brady (1942) where they held that the refusal to appoint counsel for an indigent defendant charged with a felony in the state court did not necessarily violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Gideon v. Wainwright was a momentous ruling for the rights of the accused because of the new precedence it had set.

        This ruling set a new precedent, guaranteeing that if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Justice Hugo Black, the Justice that wrote the opinion of the Court, said that reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him ( It made all state laws allowing for counsel not to be provided unconstitutional because they did not follow due process. The Supreme Court overruled Florida's law in this, changing their power for the benefit of the accused.

Korematsu v. United States

        On February 19, 1942, President F. D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order authorizing the Secretary of War and the military to remove people of Japanese ancestry from designated military areas and neighboring communities. Eventually this lead to the mass relocation of 120,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese aliens to internment camps mostly along the West Coast. Fred Korematsu was one of them, a 23 year old Japanese-American. He did not follow the order to leave his home and job. He even went as far to get plastic surgery, changed his name, and said he was of Hawaiian and Spanish ancestry. On May 30, 1942, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Fred Korematsu for not reporting to the internment camp. Korematsu allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to represent him. He was tried in San Francisco, convicted of violating the military orders issued under the Executive Order FDR authorized. He was sentenced to five years on probation, and got sent to an Assembly Center in San Bruno, CA. Korematsu's attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and they upheld the trial court's decision. He then asked the Supreme Court to hear his case, and they ruled 6-3 in favor that the detention was based on military necessity, and not race. (

        The Supreme Court, at the time very divided, ruled 6-3 in favor of the lower court's ruling. This ruling was one of judicial restraint because they upheld the implied powers taken from the expressed powers in Articles 1 & 2 of the Constitution and that the military knew what was best.

        This had a great impact on how the United States could act during a time of War. It is allowed in the Constitution for the government to incarcerate an entire group of people with no crimes being committed for the security of the entire people. In the 1980's, the district court ruling cleared Korematsu's name on the grounds of the government's legal team suppressing or destroying evidence from intelligence agencies stating that Japanese-Americans posed no military threat. With that being said, the Supreme Court upheld their verdict from 40 years prior; Justice Hugo Black said Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can (

Mapp v. Ohio

        Cleveland Police Officers, without a search warrant, busted their way into Dollree Mapp's house looking for a suspected bomber. CPD Officers didn't find a suspect but they did find a trunk of obscene pictures in her basement. She was arrested for possession of the obscene pictures but argued that her fourth amendment rights had been violated by the search. Her appeal finally reached the Supreme Court where they ruled 5-3 in favor of Mapp. They said that evidence seized without a search warrant couldn't be used in criminal prosecutions in state courts. For reference: during this time, evidence seized illegally was banned from federal courts but not from state courts. (

        The ruling in Mapp v. Ohio was one of judicial activism because they set a new precedent by making all evidence seized unlawfully banned from both state and federal courts. The Fourth Amendment states that ,The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, support by Oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV). The Supreme Court upheld what is written in the Constitution, but mandated that all state courts follow what the Constitution states because, in this case, Ohio was denying Mapp her civil rights.

        This ruling changed the powers that the states had at the time. The Supreme Court, having set this precedent, made any and all evidence obtained without a search warrant or probable cause, illegal at all state courts. Federally, it was already at this precedent. Along with Gideon v. Wainwright, this was a huge ruling for the rights of the accused in the state court systems.

Activism v. Restraint

        If I were the President, I would want an activist judge. Some of the most important protections we have as citizens have come from cases deemed as being judicial activism such as Brown v. Board of Education, Mapp v. Ohio, and Gideon v. Wainwright. We need certain protections from the government, which are our civil liberties and right. It is crucial to our freedom as we know it, and times change, as should the laws - except for the Second Amendment.

Works Cited

  1. Facts and Case Summary - Gideon v. Wainwright. United States Courts, Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  2. Facts and Case Summary Korematsu v. U.S. United States Courts, Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  3. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  4. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  5. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  6. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  7. Korematsu v. United States. Prezi.Com, Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  8. Mapp v. Ohio Podcast. United States Courts, Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
  9. New Jersey v. T.L.O. United States Courts, Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
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Landmark Supreme Court Cases. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved February 22, 2024 , from

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