President Reagan nominates Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first female justice on the Court.
In Wallace v. Jaffree, the Court overturns an Alabama law authorizing public school teachers to lead "willing students" in prayer to "Almighty God" at the start of the school day. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens states that the law lacks a secular purpose and therefore seeks to establish religion in the public schools, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
President Reagan promotes William Rehnquist, an Associate Justice since 1972, to Chief Justice.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court upholds a Georgia antisodomy law in Bowers v. Hardwick. In refusing to extend the right to privacy to include sexual acts between consenting homosexual adults, the Court holds that states may constitutionally proscribe "any kind of private sexual conduct between consenting adults."
In United States v. Salerno, the Court upholds the Bail Reform Act of 1984. The act allows, for the first time, a judge to consider a suspect's appearance of dangerousness in setting the amount of his bail. The Court's decision states that the law does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "excessive" bail.
William Rehnquist's 1986 promotion to Chief Justice represented an ideological shift to the right on the Court.
Reproduction courtesy of TIME Magazine
In McCleskey v. Kemp, the most important death penalty case it has heard since the Gregg decision of 1976, the Court upholds the death sentence of a black man convicted of murdering a white police officer in Georgia. In petitioning the Court to overturn his sentence, Warren McCleskey had cited a statistical study conducted by a professor at the University of Iowa, showing that in the state of Georgia defendants whose victims were white were 4.3 times as likely to receive the death penalty as those whose victims were black. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell states that because McCleskey could not prove a discriminatory effect in his particular trial, his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments had not been violated.
In Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, the Court rules that the Hazelwood School District did not violate its students' First Amendment rights when it removed two articles from their school newspaper prior to publication. The decision states that public schools may refuse to sponsor student speech in a school publication that is "inconsistent with 'the shared values of a civilized social order.'"