Examples of civil rights gains that weren't subjected to a public vote
June 27, 2015 4:06 PM   Subscribe

My father always said, "In America, we don't vote on civil rights." I've heard this repeated by others and I vaguely know that it's true. Recently, civil rights were afforded to same-gender couples because of the actions of the Supreme Court. What are other examples of civil rights victories that weren't a product of public voting or the will of the majority?

I realize that the majority of Americans probably support same-gender marriage at this point, but I'm looking for other civil rights victories that "weren't voted on."
posted by Baby_Balrog to Law & Government (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Interracial marriage, 1967, Loving v. Virginia.
posted by ftm at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Brown v Board of Education of Topeka
posted by hydropsyche at 4:27 PM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Abortion, Roe v. Wade. Though it falls under privacy rights rather than civil. And the fight isn't over.
posted by shoesietart at 4:27 PM on June 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Also, Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 4:28 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: PBS has a site describing landmark civil rights cases decided by SCOTUS.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:29 PM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This website has a list of important Supreme Court cases involving civil rights. There are both positive and negative cases on there. Some of my favorites include:

-US v Windsor: marriage doesn't only apply to heterosexual couples for purposes of federal law.
-Griswold v Connecticut: one of the cases that established a right to privacy, specifically in regards to birth control.
-Gideon v Wainwright: affirmed that all citizens have a right to counsel, even if they're too poor to afford one themselves.
-Powell v Alabama: everyone has a right to council in death penalty cases (this was part of the famous Scottsboro Boys debacle)
-Loving v Virginia: affirmed a right to interracial marriage (how perfect is that name??)
-Gonzales v Oregon: physicians are allowed to prescribe life-ending medication for assisted suicides.

There's also some examples of legislation and executive orders that establishes civil rights. Examples:

-Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national origin in a number of places.
-Truman's Executive Order 9981 eliminated segregation in the military.
posted by lilac girl at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The right to spend money on election campaigns as a form of political speech: Citizens United v. FEC, a decision probably opposed by a majority of the public both then and now.
posted by escabeche at 5:06 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: District of Columbia vs. Heller declared unambiguously that the Second Amendment "right to keep and bear arms" was an individal right for American citizens, not a collective right.

McDonald v. City of Chicago in turn declared that Heller applied to the states, not just to the Federal government.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Voted on by Congress and state legislatures, but not by popular vote. It is the foundation to many of the later civil rights decisions by the courts.
posted by beagle at 5:58 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In a similar vein, the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in the US.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:07 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Civil unions in Vermont (which we've had since 2000 and were replaced by SSM in 2009) were not voted on and were decided by the state supreme court.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on June 27, 2015

Response by poster: Awesome, yes, this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks all!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:42 PM on June 27, 2015

Tinker upheld free speech for students.
posted by littlewater at 9:12 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some more not mentioned:

Yick Wo v. Hopkins: the first case to rule that a facially neutrial (i.e., not obviously discriminatory) law applied in a discriminatory manner violates the equal protection clause

Plyer v. Doe: the Fourteenth Amendment applies to non-citizens as well as citizens

Korematsu v. United States was one of the most egregiously horrific decisions ever produced by the Supreme Court and is a mark of shame on this country, but it did introduce the rule that a law discriminating on the basis of race must pass the "strict scrutiny" test to survive, meaning that (1) it must be justified by a "compelling government interest," (2) it must be "narrowly tailored" to achieve that interest, and (3) it must be the "least restrictive means" for achieving that interest

Craig v. Boren: a law that discriminates on the basis of gender must pass the "intermediate scrutiny" test, under which the state has to show that important government objectives exist and prove that the law at issue substantially relates to achieving those objectives

Miranda v. Arizona: a defendant's statements to police while in custody (for example, after being arrested) are not admissible at trial unless the defendant is informed of, understands, and waives his right to an attorney and right to remain silent

Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States: created the "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, according to which evidence obtained illegally is barred from use in court

Ford v. Wainwright: ended the death penalty for the mentally ill

Roper v. Simmons: ended the death penalty for juveniles

Atkins v. Virginia: ended the death penalty for intellectually disabled defendants

Furman v. Georgia: blocked the use of the death penalty in the U.S. pending the development of a fairer (supposedly....) way to apply it (the death penalty was restored to use in Gregg v. Georgia)
posted by sallybrown at 9:39 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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