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Civil Rights: U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

Following is a list of U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving civil rights and discrimination.

View Chronologically | View by Subject

Race Discrimination

  • Dred Scott v. Sanford (1856) | (Case Background)
    A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all blacks -- whether slave or free.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
    This decision allowed the use of "separate but equal" racially segregated accommodations and facilities.
  • Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)
    The Court in this case upheld the conviction of an American of Japanese descent, who had been prosecuted for remaining in California after a 1942 presidential order designating much of the west coast a "military area", and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from California (among other west coast states)
  • Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)
    This decision held that "racially restrictive covenants" in property deeds are unenforceable. In this case, the "covenants" were terms or obligations in property deeds that limited property rights to Caucasians, excluding members of other races.
  • Bailey v. Patterson (1962)
    The Court in this case prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.
  • Loving v. Virginia (1967)
    This decision holds that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.
  • Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)
    The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public), in sale or rental of property.
  • Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)
    In this case, the Court decided that certain education requirements and intelligence tests used as conditions of employment acted to exclude African-American job applicants, did not relate to job performance, and were prohibited.
  • Lau v. Nichols (1973)
    The Court found that a city school system's failure to provide English language instruction to students of Chinese ancestry amounted to unlawful discrimination.
  • Batson v. Kentucky (1986)
    This decision holds that a state denies an African-American defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded.
  • Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
    In this case, the Court finds that a law school's limited "affirmative action" use of race in admissions is constitutional.

Gender (Sex) Discrimination

  • Roe v. Wade (1973)
    In this landmark case, the Court decided that a woman's right to abortion is part of the constitutional right to privacy.
  • Cleveland Bd. of Ed. v. LaFleur (1974)
    Found that Ohio public school mandatory maternity leave rules for pregnant teachers violate constitutional guarantees of due process.
  • Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)
    Found that a claim of "hostile environment" sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that may be brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987)
    The Court decides that a county transportation agency appropriately took into account an employee's sex as one factor in determining whether she should be promoted.
  • Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Serv., Inc. (1987)
    In this case, the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)
    The Court decided that an award of money damages is possible in a case brought to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging sexual harassment and abuse by a teacher.
  • Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (1998)
    Holding that an employee who refuses unwelcome and threatening sexual advances of a supervisor (but suffers no real job consequences) may recover against the employer without showing the employer is at fault for the supervisor's actions.
  • Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)
    The Court decides that an employer may be liable for sexual discrimination caused by a supervisor, but liability depends on the reasonableness of the employer's conduct, as well as the reasonableness of the plaintiff victim's conduct.

Gay & Lesbian Rights / Sexual Orientation Discrimination

  • Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
    The Court holds that a Georgia statute criminalizing same-sex sodomy is constitutional.
  • Romer v. Evans (1996)
    In this case, the Court finds that an amendment to Colorado's constitution, which sought to preclude legal protection of homosexuals' rights, is unconstitutional.
  • Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
    The Court holds that a Texas statute criminalizing same-sex conduct is unconstitutional.

Religious Freedoms

Disability Discrimination

  • Bragdon v. Abbott (1998)
    The Court holds that HIV infection qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999)
    In this case, the Court explains how to determine whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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