There’s a bit going around in LiveJournal, and likely other social networking sites, in response to Sarah Palin’s apparent ignorance – though really, that assumption rankles me in a way I can’t quite describe because there are very few people I know who wouldn’t freeze under the kind of scrutiny and pressure Sarah Palin has been and is under, or who may know the doctrines of important cases without knowing their actual parties – of important Supreme Court cases other than Roe v. Wade. As stated, I dislike the reason for the meme, but given that I did have a focus on US Constitutional government in my undergrad, this is a fun little delve into a topic in which I still am actually quite interested. And because most people can get the better known ones (Brown v. Board of Ed, Tinker v. Des Moines, etc.), I’ll try to hit a couple that seem to get lost a bit more easily in the detritus of your average public school education.
Bowers v. Hardwick – often cited as a “right to privacy” case in which a man engaging in consensual oral sex with another man in the privacy of his own home was arrested and prosecuted under Georgia’s sodomy law. For what it’s worth, there is no constitutional “right to privacy”, though it’s a rather fascinating bit of legal and social rhetoric to follow the progression over time that has contributed to the *belief* that there is. I recommend Ellen Alderman & Caroline Kennedy’s book The Right to Privacy to anyone who would like an introduction to the doctrine, though there are likely other more recent publications that include more recent decisions.
Marbury v. Madison – *the* case in which the Court established its right to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The actual content of the case is more or less immaterial (though still interesting); what makes this a landmark case is that it’s the first time the Court asserted its right to paticipate in the balance of the three branches of the Federal government by striking down laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. To modern Americans, judicial review is unremarkable and we’re taught that it was in fact intended by the Founding Fathers, but it wasn’t until nearly 30 years *after* the Constitution was ratified that the Court established its right.