Minnesota Landmark Cases Land in U.S. Supreme Court

Posted January 30, 2013 | By csponline

Order in the Court

The Minnesota state court system has played a role in many landmark cases that have been ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court throughout history. Take a look at the comprehensive list that features five notable cases of the nearly 200 to reach the Supreme Court in the state’s 155 year history.

1. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company v. Minnesota

The railroad played a crucial role in the westward expansion of America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including into the northern territory, which now includes Minnesota. The mass transportation system helped usher in new settlers as well as freight that included cargo needed for swift settlement of this burgeoning country. While the railroad served a pivotal role in the country’s development, it also served as a backdrop for nearly one-third of the Minnesota cases to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state’s right to regulate railroad shipping rates was argued in Chicago, M. & St. P. Ry. Co. v. Minnesota. The issue had been brought to state courts throughout the nation on numerous occasions after the Civil War; however, Minnesota’s Railroad Rate Case set the precedent and addressed the concept of due process of law. The Supreme Court overturned the state court’s previous ruling in favor of the state because it violated the Due Process Clause, in that it denied the railroad its right to a judicial investigation of national shipping rates.

2. Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson

The right to free speech granted by the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution has long served as a battle cry for dissenters of public opinion whether the speech and expression is met with praise or criticism. Minnesota brought one such case to the Supreme Court. Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson addressed a lawsuit that stemmed from an attempt by Floyd B. Olson, Hennepin County Attorney, to shut down a local newspaper that used racial and anti-Semitic language in its criticism of local officials and political figures. Olson claimed the paper violated the state’s nuisance law, and both the Hennepin County District Court and Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Olson’s right to shut down the paper.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the finding, citing the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech. The court claimed that the censorial statute conflicted with the First Amendment’s stated protections. Consequently, the Near case has become a landmark case under the First Amendment as it essentially established the rule against prior restraint by the government of offensive speech.

3. Minneapolis Star and Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Commissioner of Revenue

A more recent case citing the protections of the First Amendment was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983. Minnesota’s state legislature had issued a special use tax on newspapers for the purchase of ink. However, the tax had been drafted in a way that would only affect the newspapers listed in this case, and claims were made that it had been created as a means of retaliation against the newspapers for their coverage of current political and social issues. While the state courts had upheld the tax, the Supreme Court ruled that the tax was a violation of the First Amendment, as it was an attempt by legislature to retaliate against the newspapers.

4. Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell

Minnesota commercial cases have been brought before the Supreme Court on several occasions. Home Building and Loan Association v. Blaisdell was a Great Depression-era case that questioned the legality of a Minnesota law imposing a temporary freeze on mortgage foreclosures under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which barred states from harming contractual rights. In a narrow ruling, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state, citing the state’s legislature powers during an emergency.

5. Minnesota v. Murphy

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard numerous criminal cases brought to trial in Minnesota. One such case centered on a supposed murder confession made during a group therapy session. The admission was later repeated to a probationary officer and brought to court for admittance; however, state courts had ruled against the legality of the confession’s admittance into the trial. The Supreme Court reversed this ruling citing that it was not a compelled confession.

These cases illustrate Minnesota’s mark in the country’s legal system and its continued role in the criminal justice process.

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