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Major Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1996–97 Term

  • Police Upheld on Right to Search Cars (Nov. 18, 1996): Justices rule unanimously that when a car is stopped for a traffic violation, the driver may be asked to permit the search without further notification.
  • Previous Acquittals Ruled Factor in Sentencing (Jan. 6, 1997): Seven justices agree that courts may, and sometimes must, consider the defendant's record before imposing sentence.
  • Endangered Species Act Interpreted (March 19): The Court unanimously defends view that citizens, in addition to suing government for doing too little to protect endangered species, can also sue it for doing too much.
  • Drug Testing of Candidates Rejected (April 15): Justices, 8–1, overturn Georgia law requiring urine test for illegal drugs as a condition for a place on a ballot. It is the first decision to strike down as unconstitutional a government drug-testing program.
  • Setback is Dealt to Minor Parties (April 28): Justices rule, 6–3, that states are not constitutionally required to permit candidates to appear on more than one political party's ballot.
  • Special Rule for Drug Searches Rejected (April 28): Court unanimously decides that police must observe constitutional requirement for knocking and announcing their presence before entering a premise.
  • Justices Ease Policy on Voting Rights (May 12): In 7–2 ruling, Court restricts Justice Department's ability to insist on greater representation of minorities as requirement for approving redistricting plans.
  • Nonprofit Organizations Get Tax Break (May 19): Court rules 5–4, that states offering favorable treatment to charities cannot grant status based on whether the charity primarily serves in-state or out-of-state clients. Maine law ruled unconstitutional.
  • Clinton Rebuffed in Harassment Case (May 27): Justices rule unanimously in proceedings brought by Paula Jones, former Arkansas state employee, that a sitting President can be sued for actions outside the scope of his official duties.
  • Suspension Without Pay Upheld (June 9): Justices rule unanimously that Constitution does not automatically entitle public employees to a hearing before being temporarily furloughed without pay.
  • U.S. Loses Redistricting Challenge (June 19): Justices, 5–4, uphold court-ordered plan that leaves Georgia with only one black-majority Congressional district instead of three.
  • Environmentalists Upheld on Alaska Boundary (June 19): In 6–3 ruling, Court declares U.S. owns disputed offshore areas of Arctic coast that are ecologically fragile and rich in oil and gas deposits.
  • Curb on Parochial Schools Reversed (June 23): In sweeping 5–4 decision, Justices rule that Constitution permits public school systems to send teachers into parochial schools to teach remedial and supplemental classes for needy children.
  • Sex Predator Law Upheld (June 23): Justices rule, 5–4, that states may confine some offenders to mental hospitals after they have served prison sentences if they are deemed likely to continue crimes.
  • Private Prisons Guards Lose Immunity (June 23): In 5–4 decision, Court rules that employees of privately run institutions under contract with state or local governments are subject to prisoners' lawsuits.
  • Clinton Setback on Whitewater Notes (June 23): Justices decline to overturn lower court ruling requiring White House lawyers to turn over notes of conversations between the First Lady and attorneys regarding Whitewater investigation.
  • Court Strikes Down $1.3 Billion Asbestos Settlement (June 25): Rules against legality of class-action settlement to victims of asbestos exposure because asbestos victims are too diverse a group to be covered by a single class-action ruling. Settlement deemed unfair to future asbestos victims who may not experience the effects of exposure for several more decades—to hold them to a potentially obsolete settlement could unfairly disadvantage them.
  • Conviction in Securities Trading Case Upheld (June 25): In 6–3 decision, Court rules insider trading laws apply to persons having confidential information even if they have no connection with the company whose shares are being bought.
  • Religious Rights Law Overturned (June 25): Court decides 6–3 that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed statute giving religious practices more protection than the Justices themselves had found to be constitutionally required.
  • Ban on Internet Pornography Overruled (June 26): In an essentially unanimous decision (Rehnquist dissented to part of it), Court declares unconstitutional a federal law making it a crime to send or display “indecent” material that may be available to minors. Ruling is a sweeping endorsement of free speech online.
  • Right to Assisted Suicide Denied (June 26): In two 9–0 decisions, Court rejects constitutional challenges to New York and California laws outlawing such aid to dying. Justices leave opening for future claims.
  • Major Provision of Brady Bill Stricken (June 27): In 5–4 ruling, gun control measure is found to violate the “principle of state sovereignty”by requiring state officials to conduct background checks of prospective handgun buyers. Court thus continues Justices' debate about state–federal powers.

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Major Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1997–1998 TermSupreme Court

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