The Constitution is a living document, as seen every spring when the Supreme Court starts issuing opinions on landmark court cases from across the country. From Roe v. Wade, to Loving v. Virginia, to Brown v. Board of Education, decisions made by the Supreme Court have shaped our country's laws and people. 

For students, learning about the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions can be repetitive and boring. Here at the ACLU of Idaho, we believe it doesn't have to be that way. Below you will find a variety of documents on historically significant cases as well as information on recent decisions.   

 

Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963

Story behind the case: 
     Clarence Gideon was charged with breaking and entering with intent to commit a misdemeanor. In Florida, where the crime was committed, this is a felony. Clarence appeared in court and requested the judge appoint him an attorney because he could not afford one himself. His request was denied. He subsequently represented himself in court, and was sentenced to 5 years in a Florida prison. From prison, Clarence petitioned the Florida Supreme Court and eventually the U.S. Supreme to hear his case. He believed that he had a constitutional right to be appointed an attorney under the Sixth Amendment. The decision in 1963 concluded that every person charged with a crime is to be provided with adequate legal representation if they wish, regardless of the ability to pay.
 
ACLU of Idaho connection:
     Even with the decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the public defense system in Idaho has not been providing Constitutional service to indigent defendants for quite some time. The public defense system did not have uniform standards across county lines, some public defenders have case loads over double the amount prescribed to be able to be handled by one attorney. The ACLU of Idaho sued the state of Idaho to correct the broken system in June of 2015.   
  
Find more information here.
 

Miranda v. Arizona, 1966

Story behind the case:
     Miranda v. Arizona was actually four cases merged into one at the Supreme Court level. The defendants in each of these four cases were questioned by various law enforcement officials in a room closed off from the rest of the world, without being informed of their rights during the interrogation process. Each of these defendants admitted to wrongdoing without knowing their rights prior to admission and prior to court proceedings. 
 
ACLU of Idaho connection:
     Every day Idahoans are arrested, and are read aloud the Miranda rights statement which states: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”.  If an individual is read their Miranda rights at the time of the arrest, then it could allow for a fair trial or hearing. This Supreme Court case is a staple in our criminal justice system.
 
Find more information here.
 

Loving v. Virginia, 1967

Story behind the case:
    Mildred Jeter, a 17 year-old black female, married a white male by the name of Richard Loving. Richard was 23 years old at the time and was a construction worker. They were wed in Washington DC in 1958. When the couple returned to their home state, they were charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed under Virginia's "miscegenation" laws. These laws banned marriage between blacks and whites. The Judge sentenced the Lovings to a year in prison, unless the couple agreed to leave the state for the next 25 years. Later, their case was brought to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that state bans on interracial marriage are unconstitutional.
 
ACLU of Idaho connection: 
     The National ACLU office took the case for the Lovings in 1967 to the Supreme Court. The ACLU of Idaho continues challenging systematic and institutionalized racism, as well as any oppression or targeting of a minority group in Idaho. 
 
Find more information here.
 

Roe v. Wade, 1973

Story behind the case: 
     Jane Roe was an unmarried and pregnant Texas resident in 1970. Texas law made it a felony to abort a fetus unless given “...medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother”. Roe filed suit against Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, contesting the statue on the grounds that it violated the guarantee of personal liberty and the right to privacy implicitly guaranteed in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In the ruling for Roe, the Supreme Court invalidated any state laws that prohibited first trimester abortions.
 
ACLU of Idaho connection:
     Each legislative session there are attacks on a woman’s right to an abortion, and each year the ACLU of Idaho continues to defend a woman’s right to choose in Idaho, and opposes bills that threaten that freedom. Check out our legislation page for recent legislative fights in abortion access.
 
Find more information here.
 

Texas v. Johnson, 1989

Story behind the case: 
     Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside the Republican National Convention in 1988 to protest Ronald Reagan’s policies. At the time, burning the flag was in violation of a Texas State statute. Johnson claimed it was “symbolic speech” and appealed the subsiquent decisions all the way to the Supreme Court, where they ruled that “symbolic speech” is protected by the First Amendment. 
 
ACLU of Idaho connection:
     Flag burning may not be a behavior that is favorable by the majority, but is still protected by the First Amendment. We weigh in on cases about protesting, religion and freedom of speech based on the principles of the Constitution, and not based on what is popular. 
 
Find more information here.
 

Roper v. Simmons, 2005

Story behind the case:
     Christopher Simmons planned and committed a murder when he was 17 years old. During the trial, he was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to death, even though he had no previous record and he was a juvenile at the time. Through Simmons' case, it was argued that under the 8th amendment, committing a juvenile to death was cruel and unusual. A 5-4 decision deemed that people under 18 at the time the crime is committed, cannot be sentenced to death.
 
ACLU of Idaho connection: 
     The ACLU of Idaho is opposed to capital punishment. In Idaho, Charles Fain was wrongly convicted of rape and murder and spent 18 years in prison. Fain was exonerated through DNA evidence and released in 2001. To date, 146 people have been exonerated from death row, 20 of those cases due to DNA evidence. For others, serious doubts about their guilt didn't come to light until it was too late. We cannot risk executing even one innocent person.  
 
Find more information here.
 

Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015

Story behind the case:
     This case was comprised of four cases involving same sex couples being discriminated against due to their lack of ability to marry. The signature couple, John Arthur and James Obergefell were residents in Ohio but married in Maryland. John Arthur had a terminal illness and wanted James to be listed as his surviving spouse on his death certificate. John Arthur died during the appeals process, which eventually made it to the Supreme Court. The court ruled 5-4 to allow same sex couples to marry in all 50 states. 
 
ACLU of Idaho connection:
     The ACLU of Idaho fervently fights for equal rights of gay and transgender Idahoans. Our work in the legislature and at the city level to create lasting policy changes for the LGBTQ population. Our educational efforts work towards the common goal of everyone in Idaho being treated fairly and with respect regardless of their sexual orienation and/or gender identity. 
 
Find more information here.
 
Other websites with useful SCOTUS information:
 

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