HGov: Supreme Court Cases – Amendments 8-10

Amendment 8
In Furman v. Georgia, the Court focused on the death penalty. It concluded that capital punishment was cruel and unusual when it was inconsistently and unequally applied from one case to another. Too often people convicted of a capital crime received very different penalties. One might be sentenced to life in prison while the other was condemned to death. The Court’s decision put a sudden halt to all executions in the United States.

In Gregg v. Georgia, the Court concluded that the death penalty was constitutional under the new laws. As a result, capital punishment became a sentencing option in most states.

Amendment 9
In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, Estelle Griswold, an official with the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, had been arrested for providing medical advice to married couples on how to prevent pregnancy. Her actions violated a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives. In its decision, the Court declared that the law violated marital privacy rights. The Court said that it was an implied right in the First, Third, and Fourth amendments. The Ninth Amendment provides further support by stating that a right need not be cited in the Constitution to be valid.

Amendment 10
In the case of United States v. Morrison, the Violence Against Women Act that allowed victims of domestic violence to sue their attackers in federal court. The Court struck down this law saying that violent crime between individuals was an issue for the states not the federal government.


Econ: Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy

Learning Target: Explain how government responds to problems in the economy (rapid inflation or rising unemployment) with fiscal policy and/or monetary policy.

Fiscal policy is carried out by Congress and the President. The two main instruments of discretionary fiscal policy are government expenditures and taxes. The government collects taxes in order to finance expenditures on a number of public goods and services such as highways and national defense. Expansionary fiscal policy used to combat a recession is defined as an increase in government expenditures, a decrease in taxes, or both increase in government expenditures and decrease in taxes, that causes the government’s budget deficit to increase and its budget surplus to decrease. Contractionary fiscal policy used to combat inflation is defined as a decrease in government expenditures, an increase in taxes, or a decrease in government expenditures and an increase in taxes, which causes the government’s budget deficit to decrease and its budget surplus to increase.

The Fed has a number of monetary tools available to change the money supply and interest rates to affect real output, employment, and price levels. Open market operations are the most frequently used tool of monetary policy because of their flexibility and immediate effects. Open market operations are the Fed’s purchases and sales of government bonds with member banks and the public. The Fed increases the money supply when it buys bonds, and it reduces the money supply when it sells bonds. The reserve requirement is the most powerful tool of monetary policy, so it is only rarely used. A change in the percentage of deposits the banks must hold in reserve directly impacts the bank’s ability to increase loans and, therefore, the money multiplier. If the Fed increases the reserve requirement, banks cannot loan as much and the money supply falls. A reduction in the reserve requirement increases the potential growth of the money supply. A third important tool of monetary policy is the discount rate, which is the interest rate the Fed charges member banks for loans. A reduction in the discount rate encourages banks to borrow from the Fed and, in turn, increase loans to their customers. As a result, the money supply increases. An increase in the discount rate discourages banks from borrowing from the Fed, reducing loans and the money supply.


Read Chapter 14.5 (pages 288-291)

HGov: Supreme Court Cases – Amendments 3-7

No court cases.

The case of Katz v. United  States hinged on recordings of a suspect’s conversation made from a public phone booth. Because the recording device was placed outside the booth and recorded only the suspect’s voice, the police believed they did not need a warrant. The Court disagreed and concluded that a warrant was required because the suspect had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a phone booth.

In the case of Terry v. Ohio, three men’s behavior caused a police officer to suspect that they were about to rob a store. After questioning the men, the officer frisked them by patting down the outside of their clothing. Two of the suspects had guns, and they were later convicted for carrying concealed weapons. The men appealed their conviction claiming that the officer did not have probable cause to frisk them. The Court decided that the officer’s observations provided adequate cause for the search. His actions and suspicions were reasonable given the behavior of the suspects.

Amendment 5
In Miranda v. Arizona, Ernesto Miranda was arrested at his home and taken in custody to a police station where he was identified by the complaining witness. He was then interrogated by two police officers for two hours, which resulted in a signed, written confession. The Court set forth a procedure for ensuring that suspects know their rights. These rights of the accused became known as Miranda rights.

Amendment 6
In the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, Clarence Earl Gideon was unable to afford an attorney. He asked the court to provide him free legal counsel, however, Florida courts provided such services only in death penalty cases. The judge turned him down and Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed an appeal that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. The justices sided with Gideon, arguing that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of legal counsel should not depend on the defendant’s ability to pay.

In the case of Sheppard v. Maxwell, Sam Sheppard’s wife was murdered at the couple’s home. Sheppard claimed that an armed intruder had knocked him unconscious and then killed his wife. The Cleveland press covered the story relentlessly, in a manner that implied Sheppard’s guilt. Sheppard appealed his conviction arguing that biased press coverage had prevented him from getting a fair trial. The Court overturned the murder conviction, agreeing that coverage of the trial had “inflamed and prejudiced the public.” Although the Court acknowledged the media’s First Amendment rights, it said that press coverage should not be allowed to interfere with a defendant’s right to due process. In cases where intense media coverage might unfairly influence a trial, the trial should be moved to another location or the jury should be isolated from all news coverage.

Amendment 7
No court cases.

Econ: Monetary Tools

Learning Target: Explain how government responds to problems in the economy (rapid inflation or rising unemployment) with monetary policy.

Monetary Tools
Monetary policy consists of decisions made by a central bank about the amount of money in circulation and interest rates. In the United States, the Federal Reserve makes such decisions. The Fed controls monetary policy to help the economy grow steadily with full employment and stable prices.

The Fed can inject money into the economy or pull it out using open-market operations. The Fed’s open-market operation involve buying and selling of government securities in the bond market. The securities can be Treasury bonds, notes, bills, or other government bonds. When the Fed adopts an easy-money policy, the Fed’s bond traders buys government securities. Every dollar the Fed pays for bonds increases the money supply. When the Fed adopts a tight-money policy, its bond traders sell securities in the bond market. The public pays for these bonds with cash or money taken out of banks. As the money goes out of circulation, the money supply shrinks. Additionally, banks end up with smaller deposits, they have less money to lend, which also slows the growth of the money supply.Open-market operations are relatively easy to carry out. They allow the Fed to make small adjustments in the money supply without new laws or banking regulations. For these reasons, the sale and purchase of securities is the monetary tool the Fed uses most to stabilize the economy.

Banks sometimes need to borrow money to keep their reserve requirement at the proper level. This might happen because a bank has made too many loans or it could be a result of an unexpectedly large withdrawals.Whatever the reason, banks can borrow money from the Fed to shore up their reserves. The interest rate on such loans is known as the discount rate. A low discount rate makes it less costly for banks to borrow from the Fed. Banks can then use that money to make loans to customers thereby expanding the money supply. Raising the discount rate has the opposite effect by discouraging banks from borrowing from the Fed. With money tight, banks make fewer loans, keeping the money supply in check.

The Fed’s least used monetary tool is the required reserve ratio. The Fed could expand or contract the money supply by adjusting the required reserve ratio. This ratio is the minimum percentage of deposits the banks must keep at all times.Lowering the ratio would allow banks to make more loans and create more money. Raising the reserve ratio would force banks to keep more cash in reserve and out of the money supply. This in turn would leave banks with less money to lend, slowing money creation.


Read Chapter 14.4 (pages 282-288)


HGov: Supreme Court Cases Amendments 1-2

The case of Engel v Vitale challenged the recitation of a standard prayer each day in New York’s public schools. In its decision, the Court struck down the practice. State-sponsored prayer in schools was wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause.

In West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, the Court said that Jehovah’s Witnesses could refuse to salute the flag. Jehovah’s Witnesses view pledging allegiance to the flag as a form of idolatry prohibited by the Bible. Their right to do so was protected under their First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free speech.

In Lemon v Kurtzman, using public funds to support private religious schools was unconstitutional. This case established a three-point “Lemon test” to determine if and when a government action violates the Establishment Clause. To be constitutional, a government action must have a secular, or nonreligious, purpose; neither help nor hurt religion; not result in an excessive entanglement of the government and religion.

In the case of Brandenburg v Ohio, a Ku Klux Klan leader was arrested for giving a speech advocating illegal activities. In its decision, the Court offered a two-part test to determine whether a clear and present danger exists that might justify suppressing free speech. First, such speech has to be directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action. Second, the speech must be likely to incite or produce such action. The Court found that the Klan leader’s speech, though containing hateful statements, was unlikely to produce any unlawful actions.

In Texas v Johnson, the Court concluded that flag burning as an expression of opinion was protected symbolic speech. Gregory Lee Johnson had been arrested in Texas for burning a flag to protest government policies. His actions violated a state law against flag desecration.It said that a state could not prohibit such actions, even if it found them offensive.

The Near case involved a newspaper that Minnesota officials wanted to shut down. The paper had published articles exposing political corruption. In Near v. Minnesota, the Court declared such attempts at prior restraint to be unconstitutional. The Court declared that a government had no right to call for prior restraint. Keeping information from being published could be allowed only under very special circumstances, such as protecting national security. If officials were worried about possibly libelous articles, they could sue the publisher after the materials were in print.

In the United States v. Miller case, the Court supported the conviction of two men who had failed to register a sawed-off shotgun. The Court’s decision directly tied gun ownership to militias. Because militias never used sawed-off shotguns for common defense, the Court determined that government had the right to regulate such weapons.


Econ: Functions of the Federal Reserve

Learning Target: Describe the role and function of the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve is the central bank of the United States and has three primary functions: financial services, supervision and regulation, and monetary policy.

The Federal Reserve Banks provide financial services to banks, credit unions, and savings and loans, much like those banks provide for their customers. These services include distributing and receiving cash and coin, collecting checks, and electronically transferring funds.

It’s up to the Fed to make sure there is enough money in circulation. Reserve Bank offices maintain cash and coin processing operations to accept deposits and distribute cash and coin to financial institutions. When cash and coin are deposited with the Reserve Banks, notes that are suspected of being counterfeit are separated from the rest and forwarded to the Secret Service. Notes that are too worn for recirculation are destroyed using a shredding machine. Each of the twelve Federal Reserve Banks is authorized by the Federal Reserve Act to issue currency. The notes are designed and printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the Department of the Treasury and are delivered to the Reserve Banks for circulation.

Federal Reserve Banks provide two types of electronic payment services; the automated clearinghouse service and wire transfers. The Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) is an electronic payment network through which banks send each other electronic credit and debit transfers. The Fedwire funds transfer system is a large-dollar electronic payment system owned and operated by the Federal Reserve Banks that transfers funds between financial institutions. Participants typically transfer large dollar, time-critical payments, to repay large loans or to settle real estate transactions. The majority of Fedwire transactions are initiated on-line and all transactions are completed in seconds. The Federal Reserve System operates a nationwide check clearing system that processes checks, drafts and similar items. When a bank receives deposits of checks drawn on other banks, it sends the checks for collection to a Federal Reserve Bank. For checks collected through the Federal Reserve Banks, the accounts of the collecting institutions are credited for the value of the checks deposited for collection and the accounts of the paying banks are debited for the value of checks presented for payment. Most checks are collected and settled within one business day.

Additionally, the Federal Reserve acts as a fiscal agent or bank to the federal government by providing financial services to the United States Department of Treasury and by selling and redeeming government securities such as Savings Bonds and Treasury bills. One of the core responsibilities of the Federal Reserve Banks is to serve as fiscal agent and depository for the United States government. In this role, the Reserve Banks act as the federal government’s bank and perform several services for the Treasury. These services include: maintaining accounts for U.S. Treasury, processing government checks, postal money orders and U.S. savings bonds, and collecting federal tax deposits.

The Federal Reserve System supervises and regulates a wide range of financial institutions and activities. The Federal Reserve works in conjunction with other federal and state authorities to ensure that financial institutions safely manage their operations and provide fair and equitable services to consumers. Bank examiners also gather information on trends in the financial industry, which helps the Federal Reserve System meet its other responsibilities, including determining monetary policy. Two major focuses of banking supervision and regulation are the safety and soundness of financial institutions and compliance with consumer protection laws. To measure the safety and soundness of a bank, an examiner performs an on-site examination review of the bank’s performance based on its management and financial condition, and its compliance with regulations. If consumers have a complaint about a financial institution they can contact the Federal Reserve. Together with the twelve Federal Reserve Banks, the Board of Governors can answer questions about banking practices and investigate complaints about specific banks under the Fed’s supervisory jurisdiction.


Eye of the Storm video
Federal Reserve Challenge


HGov: Supreme Court Cases

Some cases begin at the Supreme Court because they fall under its original jurisdiction. However, the vast majority of cases reach the Court only as appeals from lower court decisions.

The main route to the Supreme Court is when a lower court petitions the Court for a writ of certiorari, an order to send up the records on a case for review. When cases come to the Court, the justices and clerks decide which ones are worthy of serious consideration, and the chief justice puts them on a “discuss list” for all the justices to consider. If four of the nine justices agree to accept the case, the Court will do so.

After the Court accepts a case, the lawyers on each side submit a brief. Parties who have an interest in a case’s outcome may also submit a written brief called amicus curiae. The justices listen to oral arguments from lawyers for each side of each case.

The Court then recesses and considers arguments in these cases. A majority of justices must be in agreement to decide a case.

The Court issues one of four types of written opinions, which are as important as the decision itself. An opinion may be unanimous. A majority opinion expresses the view of the majority of justices. A justice who agrees with the majority’s decision but for a different reason may write a concurring opinion. A dissenting opinion is the opinion of justices on the losing side in a case.