SCOTUS Watch
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SCOTUS Watch

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The Week of May 1, 2021: On This Day In SCOTUS History

This week we will cover nonconsensual eugenic sterilization, restrictive covenants against Blacks and Asians, ratification of the 13th Amendment (really?) and the 27th Amendment (great story!), and the disbarment of Spiro T. Agnew. There are lots of really good embedded videos in this one (especially that last one).

Cases are presented in chronological order. IRAC format used where possible.

Disclaimer: These cases have not been Shepardized. This article is not legal advice. Those seeking legal advice should consult an attorney. (I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney.)

1865, May 5

The 13th Amendment Is Ratified, Abolishing Slavery, Sort of.

The Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. The Proclamation added oil to the fire of the war, changing it from a fight to preserve the Union to a fight to end slavery (or to preserve slavery if you were a Confederate). One huge benefit of the Proclamation (a strategically sly benefit, perhaps?), was that it led to the volunteer enlistment of thousands of Blacks to the war effort.

Still, a proclamation is not a law. It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery permanently. It took a couple of tries before Congress finally passed the amendment for submission the the states. President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, less than a month from its ratification.

The Fourteenth Amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

The “except as a punishment for crime” bit has gotten a lot of attention lately as proof that slavery has not died. The grossly disproportionate incarceration of African Americans is directly related to a business model that calls for the exploitation of these prisoners, at artificially deflated labor costs, to benefit the partnership of the for-profit prison industrial complex and American corporations. Coincidence?

I highly recommend the Netflix Documentary “13th Amendment.” If you do not have a Netflix account . . . I would tell you that somebody has posted it on YouTube, but I’m guessing she doesn’t have the rights, so you didn’t hear that from me.

1915, May6

Babe Ruth Hits His First Major League Home Run

Babe Ruth as a young buck in 1919.

Babe Ruth began his major league career in July, 1914, as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox. He pitched 12 1/3 innings against the New York Yankees the day he hit his first home run — in the third inning, into the second tier of the right field grandstands. Home runs were still rare at the time, so the papers were effusive.

Ruth would go on to established many MLB batting records:

  • career home runs (714)
  • runs batted in (RBIs) (2,213)
  • bases on balls (2,062)
  • slugging percentage (.690) (Still Stands)
  • and on-base plus slugging (OPS) (1.164) (Still Stands)

Offering this as a reminder that for every great achievement, there is always a first. You have to start somewhere. Trust the process, and keep grinding.

1927, May 2

The Court Legalizes Forced Sterilization for the Feeble-Minded

Buck v. Bell, 247 U.S. 200 (1927)

Carrie Buck, 18 years old, and her mother Emma Buck, 52, lived at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. The Colony superintended ordered that Carrie should be sterilized because she was feeble-minded and promiscuous, like her mother.

Issue:

Whether forced sterilization (salpingectomy) violates the due process and equal protection of the laws through the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Rule:

Fourth Amendment (in pertinent part): “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]”

Fourteenth Amendment (in pertinent part): “[N]or shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Analysis (Opinion Justice Holmes):

  • “[H]eredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, imbecility, etc.”
  • The procedure is painless and carries no substantial danger to life.
  • The health of the patient and the welfare of society could be promoted.

The Court opinion is short and there isn’t a lot to analyze, but it has it’s quotable moments.

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.

Conclusion/Holding

Eugenics is a good thing, right? By the way, this opinion WAS NEVER OVERTURNED! (It’s still law, but it’s impossible to enforce due to, among other things, the

Carrie Buck’s backstory is messed up to say the least. (For starters, she was not feeble-minded, but was put away to hide a rape by her foster mother’s nephew.) Fortunately, my favorite, dry-witted Supreme Court analyst, Mr. Beat, created a 7-minute video of these details. Definitely worth the watch.

Courtesy of Mr. Beat on YouTube

Justice Holmes was not alone. I am including here a link to a video from PBS’s American Experience Series on The Eugenics Crusade, which briefly covers the Buck case while delving more deeply into the eugenics trend in the United States and worldwide.

1948, May 3

The Court Strikes Down Racially Restrictive Housing Covenants

Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948)

An African-American family purchased a house in St. Louis. In this particular neighborhood, 30 out of 39 homeowners had signed a restrictive covenant (condition precedent) that the property should not be occupied, in whole or in part, “by anybody not of the Caucasian race,” and specifically called out for exclusion “people of the Negro or Mongolian Race.” This house was one of them.

Issue:

Whether the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment inhibits judicial enforcement by state courts of restrictive covenants based on race or color.

Rule:

Fourteenth Amendment (in pertinent part): “[N]or shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provides: “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.”

Restrictive covenants are clauses that impose restraints on the use of land. (By contrast, an affirmative covenant would impose obligations or duties upon the landowner.) Such private agreements, standing alone, do not violate any rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

Analysis (Opinion Chief Justice Vinson):

Private agreements to exclude persons of designated race or color from the use or occupancy of real estate for residential purposes do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, but a state court’s enforcement of those agreements would be a violation of the equal protection clause.

Respondents claimed that the judicial enforcement of the private agreement was so attenuated as not to amount to state action within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. But, it was determined in the Civil Rights Cases (1883) that “State action of every kind” including “State authority in the shape of laws, customs, or judicial or executive proceedings” which are inconsistent with the equal protection clause are void.

“The owners of the properties were willing sellers, and contracts of sale were accordingly consummated. It is clear that, but for the active intervention of the state courts, supported by the full panoply of state power, petitioners would have been free to occupy the properties in question without restraint.”

The State made available “the full coercive power of government to deny petitioners on the grounds of race or color[.]”

There is no merit in the argument that the racist property owners are denied equal protection of the laws if denied access to the courts to enforce the terms of these covenants. “The Constitution confers upon no individual the right to demand action by the State which results in the denial of equal protection of the laws to other individuals.” And the State must act within the boundaries of the 14th Amendment.

Conclusion/Holding:

Enforcement of the covenant is reversed.

Can you say “systemic racism”? I knew you could.

Please enjoy this delightful 2-minute video that includes a brief interview with the daughter of a black realter involved in the Shelley case. Also shows footage of St. Louis and of the Shelley’s house at that time.

1974, May 2

Former VP Spiro Agnew Is Disbarred in the State of Maryland

The Maryland Court of Appeals unanimously disbarred former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew for tax evasion while he was serving as Governor of Maryland. Attorneys are held to a higher standard which extends to private matters.

According to a New York Times article at the time, Agnew pled no contest to the charge but asked for a suspension instead of debarment, claiming that his positions of high public trust be ignored. Yet, it was precisely because he was VP that he was able to escape more serious penalties. His successor as Baltimore County Executive, who was convicted of similar charges, was sentence to five years in prison. Agnew escaped with a $10,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation.

1992, May 7

The 27th Amendment Is Ratified After 203 Years

The amendment that would eventually become the 27th Amendment was submitted to the 1st Congress by James Madison among the collection of amendments that, whittled down to ten, became the Bill of Rights.

The 27th Amendment Reads: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

In other words: When members of Congress want to give themselves a pay raise, they must wait until the next election has intervened before the pay raise takes effect.

So, how did this 1789 amendment get ratified in 1992?

In 1982, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, name Gregory Watson, wrote a paper for a government class in which he claimed that the amendment could still be ratified. The professor gave him a “C”.

So what did he do? He went BEAST MODE!

He got it RATIFIED!

Check out this surprisingly popular 6-minute minute video, including an interview with Gregory Watson himself. The Beast!

Courtesy Dallas College.

1995, May 1

Interstate Commerce Clarified for RICO Charges

United States v. Robertson, 514 U.S. 669 (1995)

The opinion in this case is four paragraphs long. Respondent invested in an Alaska gold mine using proceeds from his illegal narcotics activities.

Issue:

Whether the activities of the gold mine “affected” interstate commerce.

Rule:

Racketeering is the act of acquiring or controlling a business through certain crimes or income from those crimes. It’s often associated with extortion.

RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) prohibits the use or investment of the proceeds of racketeering acts to acquire, establish or operate an enterprise which engages in or affects interstate commerce. It was ultimately designed to address the infiltration of legitimate enterprises by organized crime and other illegal ventures.

RICOOOOOOOO. SUAAAAAVEEEEEEEE.

Analysis (Opinion Per Curiam):

The Court of Appeals concluded that the Government had failed to introduce sufficient evidence that the gold mine (the RICO “enterprise”) was “engaged in or affect[ed] interstate commerce.”

Respondent’s activities included buying mining equipment in Los Angeles and shipping to Alaska, hiring and paying the expenses of out-of-state employees to travel to Alaska to work, and shipping gold out of the state.

“Whether or not these activities met … the requirement of substantially affecting interstate commerce, they assuredly brought the gold mine within [RICO’s] alternative criterion of “any enterprise . . . engaged in . . . interstate or foreign commerce,” which includes being “directly engaged in the production, distribution, or acquisition of goods and services in interstate commerce.”

Held:

Respondent’s gold mine comes within reach of the

MAHALO MUCHO!!!

If you enjoyed this article please follow and comment.

You can also find me on most social media platforms under the handle ronman63 and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronalddrodriguez/ .

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If you think the stock market is crazy, wait until you read what the Supreme Court is up to. Things are getting SPICY!

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Ronald D. Rodriguez

Ronald D. Rodriguez

I am a deputy attorney general working in State government. Visit my LinkedIn profile at linkedin.com/in/ronalddrodriguez/ for more.

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