Regents Prep: U.S. History: Reform: Introduction

The United States enjoys a vast history of reform. In fact, reform is a component that is critical to the continued success of democracy. As different groups within the U.S. have struggled for their rights; to end business and political corruption; or to promote higher standards of safety; the United States has changed dramatically to meet these changing needs.

Regents Prep US History Reform Topics


Reform occurs through a variety of different methods in the United States. Individual states may pass laws, the Federal government may pass national laws, amendments may be added to the Constitution, and the Supreme Court may interpret the Constitution differently over time.

Adding amendments to the Constitution has provided one avenue for reform:

Major Reform Amendments

13th (1865) Freed the slaves.
14th (1868) Defined citizenship and guaranteed equal protection.
15th (1870) Provided universal male suffrage (voting).
16th(1913) Granted Congress the power to tax income.
17th(1913) Provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators.
18th(1919) Prohibited making, selling, or transporting alcohol.
19th(1920) Provided female suffrage (voting).
24th(1964) Bans poll tax as a requirement for voting.
26th(1971) Set minimum voting age at 18.

The Supreme Court has also provided reform through the use of judicial review:

Reform-Minded Supreme Court Cases

Munn v. Illinois
Upheld Granger state laws regulating railroad commerce.
Brown v. Board(1954) Found that segregation of black children in the public school system was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Mapp v. Ohio
Upheld the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.
Baker v. Carr
Found that unequal legislative apportionment violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment..
Engel v. Vitale
Found that NYS school prayer violated guarantees of freedom of religion from the First Amendment.
Gideon v. Wainwright
Required that the accused be provided with an attorney by the government even if they cannot afford one.
Escobedo v.

Required that the accused be provided with an opportunity to meet with an attorney.
Miranda v.
Required that the accused be informed of their rights and that they understand them before being questioned.
U. of California Regents v. Bakke
Found that affirmative action was constitutional, but could not be used as the only criteria for college admissions.