Changes in Supreme Court Philosophies Term Paper

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Supreme Court Chief Justices Warren and Rehnquist

Compare and contrast approaches to criminal procedures by U.S. Supreme Courts:

The Warren vs. The Rehnquist Court

A common philosophical debate within the legal community is when the approach advocated by so-called 'conservative' justices (often called strict constructionism) is pitted against more 'liberal' and freer interpretations of constitutional words and history. Throughout much of the 20th century, it was often said that the more liberal interpreters of the Constitution were 'winning the war' in regards to this issue, thanks to the presiding intelligence of Chief Justice Earl Warren. "Following his appointment in 1953 Chief Justice Earl Warren led the Court into a series of decisions that drastically affected sexual freedom, the rights of criminals, the practice of religion, civil rights, and the structure of political representation. The decisions of the Warren Court reflected its deep concern for the individual, no matter how lowly" (Some major decisions of the Warren Court, n.d). However, in the 1990s, the Court led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist limited some of the historic decisions of the Warren Court, in line with that Chief Justice's emphasis on strict constructionism.

The Warren Court

One of the most historic decisions by the Warren Court was Brown v. Board of Education (1954). This decision completely overturned the previous Supreme Court precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy allowed for separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites. The Plessy decision had a seismic impact on the Reconstruction Era South: African-Americans were virtually unanimously given restricted, inferior access to facilities spanning from schools to drinking fountains under the law. The Warren Court found, based upon an extensive analysis of the psychological impact of segregation on African-American children as well as the constitution, that 'separate but equal' in practice was a misnomer and ordered the desegregation of the school system. The individual right of a child to a high-quality education with unfettered access to good schools outweighed the right of states to restrict the liberties of its citizens (The Warren and Rehnquist courts and the struggle for civil rights, 2014, Beyond Brown).

It is noteworthy that despite the unanimity on the Warren Court future Chief Justice William Rehnquist opposed the ruling at the time and all subsequent attempts at desegregation: "As a Supreme Court law clerk in 1953 he had opposed the Brown decision, declaring in a memorandum, 'I think Plessy v. Ferguson [the case that approved "separate but equal" facilities] was right and should be reaffirmed'" (The Warren and Rehnquist courts and the struggle for civil rights, 2014, Beyond Brown). Rehnquist believed that states' rights -- even the right to discriminate -- were more important than a universal federal mandate for equality. The Brown decision was to set the tone between the Warren Court and the court which Rehnquist presided over when he became Chief Justice.

"The years 1962-1968 are often referred to as the heyday of the Warren Court when it moved in an aggressively liberal direction on numerous constitutional issues ranging from racial to civil rights, to legislative apportionment, to church state relations, to freedom of speech, to criminal justice" (Rapczynski 2014). Many of these decisions completely redefined how defendant's rights were conceptualized. The first of these historic decisions was Mapp v. Ohio (1962), in which the police attempted to forcibly search the home of one Ms. Mapp without a warrant. The Warren Court ruled the search unconstitutional and the decision gave rise to the concept of the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' doctrine whereby illegally obtained evidence (in the case of Ms. Mapp, pornographic materials) was deemed inadmissible (Some major decisions of the Warren Court, n.d.). Thus many notions which we now take for granted because we see them so frequently on police nighttime dramas came into being in the era of the Warren Court, including what is regarded as the very basic right to an attorney. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1964) the convicted Gideon appealed his case before the Court because he had been too poor to have a lawyer appointed to defend him. Gideon argued that a lack of professional representation was the primary reason for his conviction. "Defendants in state court accused of a felony now must be provided with a free court appointed attorney" (Rapczynski 2014). Although many might argue today that there is a vast discrepancy between the justice enjoyed by the wealthy and the poor, the Gideon decision allowed for greater parity.

Another landmark Warren Court decision upholding the concept of extending a free and fair trial to all Americans was that of Miranda v. Arizona. (1966). In the case, "Ernesto Miranda was arrested for the kidnapping and rape of a woman in Arizona. He was taken to the police station where after two hours of police questioning he signed a confession statement" (Rapczynski 2014). During this time, Miranda was never informed of his constitutional rights to an attorney or against self-incrimination. "While in prison he appealed his case to the Supreme Court arguing that his confession should not have been used at his trial because the police had not told him of his rights and he answered questions because he did not know he could remain silent (Rapczynski 2014). The resultant effect of this case was the 'Miranda Rights' that are now read to every person who is arrested for a crime in the United States.

At the time the Warren Court was accused of overstepping its bounds into legislative territory, given that the extensive, detailed nature of one's Miranda Rights can hardly be found delineated in the Constitution. "Warren was accused…of stepping into legislative role. (Powe 395) However, Warren "felt he was turning constitutional principles into practical policies" that would ensure the rights of the weakest members of society were protected (Rapczynski 2014). Another landmark case which had profound consequences in terms of how individual liberties were conceptualized was Griswald v. Connecticut (1965). "In this case the Court struck down a state law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, even among married couples. The Court proclaimed (critics said 'invented') a 'right of privacy' that soon provided the basis for decisions protecting women's abortion rights" (Some major decisions of the Warren Court, n.d.).

Rehnquist philosophy

Chief Justice Rehnquist's articulated philosophy was in stark contrast to that of the Warren Court's. According to Rehnquist: "the judicial review function can be performed consistently with the democratic concept of government only if the Court objectively interprets the Constitution according to the framers' intent as derived from the constitutional text, the historical record, and necessary implication" (Riggs & Proffitt 1983: 567). The Rehnquist Court oversaw a number of decisions which either clarified or substantially limited the liberties granted by the Warren Court. For example, in Illinois v. Perkins (1990) the court ruled that "the Miranda rule does not apply when the defendant voluntarily gives testimony to an undercover agent while unaware that they are speaking with an officer" (Rehnquist Court civil liberties cases, 2014, Study Blue). In Payne v. Illinois (1991) the court allowed victim impact statements to be read as part of the sentencing phase of a trial, stating that they were not in violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment (Rehnquist Court civil liberties cases, 2014, Study Blue).

Rehnquist was a dissenter in the Roe v. Wade (1972) decision, denying the existence of an implied right to privacy in the constitution. However, the Rehnquist Court showed reluctance to overturn such historical Warren Court decisions. For example, in Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), Roe was affirmed although the Court ruled "that states may regulate abortions so as to protect the health of the mother and the life of the fetus, and may outlaw abortions of 'viable' fetuses" (McBride 2007). The Rehnquist Court was willing to constrain civil liberties to some extent and give greater power to the states to regulate them but not to deny the right to privacy entirely, as established by the Warren Court.

The Roberts Court

Chief Justice John Roberts was initially expected to lead the Roberts Court in a very similar manner to the Rehnquist Court, affirming the principles of strict construction and continuing to chip away at the liberties granted by the Warren Court. Thus far, however, the legacy of Roberts is somewhat more uncertain. "If judicial activism is defined as the tendency to strike down laws, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is less activist than any court in the last 60 years" (Liptak 2013). Perhaps the most surprising decision by the Roberts Court was its willingness to uphold the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, a critical provision of the healthcare reform known as Obamacare. Roberts wrote: "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax…Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness" (Liptak 2012). Roberts thus showed…[continue]

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