civil rights

separation of church and state

A phrase most famously used by Supreme Court Justice Black in the case of Everson v. Board of Education. In discussing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Justice Black said that the clause erected a "wall of separation between church and state." He explained that this means, among other things, that the government cannot participate in the affairs of a religious group, set up a church, aid or prefer one religion over another, or aid or prefer religion over nonreligion.

Furman v. Georgia (1972)

The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional because states imposed it in an arbitrary -- and sometimes racially biased -- manner. The Court also ruled that the death penalty could not be imposed for rape. After this decision, states rewrote their laws to address the Court's concerns, and the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, were not citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the right to sue in federal court. The Court also ruled that the federal government could not prohibit slavery in the territories. The decision was a prime factor leading to the Civil War, but was eventually rendered moot by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- which provides that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen of the nation and of his or her state.

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Definition

The Supreme Court case that held that the Constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus. 

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