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1970-1987: We wrestle with our democratic freedoms, arguing issues old and new

From the New Deal era onward, the power of the president grew. But as the Vietnam War lost the support of the American people, presidential war powers came under fire, and Congress reasserted its role with passage of the War Powers Act. Then the Watergate scandal drove President Richard M. Nixon from office and the end of the “imperial presidency” seemed at hand. By the 1980s, though, a more conservative political voice began to be heard, promoting a strong presidency, attacking judicial activism, and defending states’ rights. President Ronald Reagan exercised strong leadership, questioning the size of the federal government and promising to get it off the backs of the American people. His nominations to the Supreme Court raised questions about how we should interpret the Constitution. The result was a tug-of-war that continues today over issues like abortion rights, prayer in schools, and affirmative action.

  May 1, 1970
On this day National Guardsmen, quelling antiwar protests at Kent State University in Ohio, shoot and kill four students
November 3, 1970
Long-time civil rights activist Bella Abzug becomes first Jewish woman elected to Congress
  April 20, 1971
On this day Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upholds use of busing to end state-imposed school segregation
June 30, 1971
The “Pentagon Papers” case affirms freedom of the press
July 1, 1971
States ratify Twenty-sixth Amendment, extending voting rights to citizens over 18 years of age
  November 22, 1971
On this day Supreme Court, in Reed v. Reed, rules for first time that laws discriminating against women violate 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause
  March 22, 1972
On this day Congress sends Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), barring discrimination based on sex, to states for ratification
  June 17, 1972
On this day Five burglars arrested at Washington, D.C. , Watergate complex while breaking into Democratic National Party headquarters
June 29, 1972
The Supreme Court overturns all state death penalty laws
Vilma S. Martinez elected president and general counsel of Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
January 22, 1973
In Roe v. Wade, the Court overturns state prohibition of abortions
January 27, 1973
Our nation’s been in turmoil over the war in Vietnam
  March 29, 1973
On this day U.S. withdraws combat troops from Vietnam
November 7, 1973
Congress reasserts its role with the War Powers Act
August 8, 1974
In the wake of Watergate, Nixon resigns the presidency
September 8, 1974
For the first time, a president pardons a former president
Ellen McCormack becomes first woman to receive federal funds for presidential race
December 8, 1976
Latinos mobilize for political strength
  January 20, 1977
On this day Jimmy Carter inaugurated as president
June 28, 1978
Affirmative action tests our attitudes toward race and equality
October 10, 1980
Native Americans in Maine sue the state over land claims
  January 20, 1981
On this day Ronald Reagan inaugurated as president
April 27, 1981
Senator S.I. Hayakawa proposes amendment establishing English as official language of U.S.
September 25, 1981
Women join the fight for equality under the law
  June 30, 1982
On this day Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) fails, having fallen three states short of 38 needed for ratification
August 23, 1984
A triumphant President promotes conservative constitutionalism
  June 30, 1986
On this day Supreme Court rules that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are constitutional in Bowers v. Hardwick
  September 25, 1986
On this day William H. Rehnquist succeeds Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice of the U.S.

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