The Court issues its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, striking as unconstitutional a Texas anti-abortion law. The 7-2 decision draws on the 1965 Griswold precedent in holding that the right to privacy extends, for women, to include the right to seek an abortion.
Citing the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process, the Court overturns a federal law granting preferential benefits to male members of the military. The law had automatically awarded a salary supplement to all married male personnel, as well as medical benefits to their wives, but gave the same benefits to female service members and their husbands only if they could demonstrate that the husband was dependent on the wife for at least half of his income. The decision in Frontiero v. Richardson holds that the law mandates "dissimilar treatment for men and women who are similarly situated" and is therefore unconstitutional.
Following grand jury indictments of seven of President Richard Nixon's closest aides for their involvement with the Watergate break-in and cover-up, a special prosecutor in charge of the investigation seeks to obtain tapes that Nixon made of his conversations. In United States v. Nixon, the Court rejects Nixon's claim that the Constitution affords him an "executive privilege" to deny the request, and compels him to turn over the tapes.
Sharron Frontiero -- the plaintiff in the landmark gender discrimination case Frontiero v. Richardson -- with her husband Joseph.
Reproduction courtsey of the Supreme Court Historical Society
With its decision in three cases known together as Gregg v. Georgia, the Court again permits states to employ the death penalty. The decision states that capital punishment statutes are constitutional as long as they limit jury discretion in sentencing, provide for "bifurcated" trials (in which the determination of guilt or innocence and the sentencing remain separate), and create a clear process by which a defendant may immediately appeal a capital sentence.
In Ingraham v. Wright, the Court holds that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual" punishment applies only to criminal offenses and therefore does not bar the use of corporal punishment in schools.
A sharply divided Court holds, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, that a university may use race as a criterion in its admissions process, as long as it is only one of many factors under consideration and no "fixed quotas" exist.