In 1954, America was still a society divided along racial lines. Even schools were divided into those catering to either white or colored students. Oliver Brown of Topeka in Kansas believed it to be in violation of his 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection. He brought a case against the Board of Education to the court. White segregationists argued that, while they may go to different schools, the fact that they have similar buildings, accessibility and subjects mean that colored students were getting an education equal to that received by white students; separate but equal, in other words. The plaintiffs argued, however, that the fact that it was separated meant that there was a difference and unless remedied, they would never be equal. The Supreme Court sided with Brown and declared school segregation as unconstitutional.
When John Adams was serving out the remaining days of his presidency before the assumption of Thomas Jefferson to power in 1801, he appointed William Marbury as Justice of the Peace. Marbury’s papers were not delivered, however, as Jefferson ordered his Secretary of State James Madison to sit on it. Marbury asked the court to compel Madison to deliver his appointment papers. While the court agreed that Marbury had a right to have his papers delivered, it also ruled that it could not compel Madison to do so. It held that the law that allowed Marbury to sue was in itself unconstitutional because Congress could not extend a court’s jurisdiction beyond what the Constitution provided. This case defined the boundary between the executive and judicial branches.
Gregory Lee Johnson was convicted in Texas for desecration of a venerated object after burning the flag during the Republican National Convention in 1989. The court overruled the state court, deciding in 1989 that the action of Johnson was an extension of his 1st amendment right to free speech.
Jane Roe challenged the constitutionality of Texas’ law criminalizing abortion. She sued Henry Wade, the District Attorney of Dallas, in an attempt to overturn the law. The court decided for Roe in 1973, saying that a woman has a right to privacy and to make her own decision. States, however, retain the right to regulate abortion depending on the pregnancy’s trimester.