Supreme Court Decisions the Nature Essay

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For example, he voted to require that schools utilize resources to support religions activities if they designate resources to non-religious activities (Board of Education. v. Mergens, 1990). Further, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) called for vouchers to be given to families of low socioeconomic standing for both religious and secular educational institutions. This being said, Rehnquist was not able to completely disrupt the social change that Warren had started in this area but he was able to utilize his conservative nature to take a few steps backward.

Where Warren set to emphasize the equal protection rights of the individual in the criminal justice system, Rehnquist focused on the importance of the conviction of the guilty and absolution of the innocent (Davis, 1992). Police practices were believed to be necessary and appropriate if they were able to secure the conviction of a guilty party. In fact Rehnquist attempted to overturn the ruling in Miranda v. Arizona (1996) and when unsuccessful was able to secure rulings that limited the scope of its impact. Rehnquist voted in favor of police action that secured confessions and resulted in punishment of a guilty person regardless of the means by which it was obtained. This included cases where a confession was secured even after a suspect asked for counsel or in which evidence was procured through a motor vehicle stop that did not appear to have probable cause (Davis, 1992). These rulings demonstrate Rehnquist's conservative viewpoint and his need to put social order above the needs or rights of the individual.

Unlike Warren who recognized that social change was upon us and in fact led this change through his controversial rulings that protected the civil liberties of the individual, Rehnquist consistently voted for decisions that emphasized public order maintenance. This approach gave some protection back to law enforcement and increased liberty in their ability to secure evidence and confessions that could later be used in court. Yet despite initial attempts to overturn and influence the Miranda warning, Rehnquist eventually sustained this decision in the ruling of Dickerson v. United States (2000). In this ruling, Rehnquist claims that separate from his own beliefs on Miranda that it had become embedded in routine police practices and national culture and therefore should be upheld in the high court.

Where Warren ruled for the civil rights of the individual in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Rehnquist fundamentally supported the concept of separate but equal. This is further evidenced by his rulings on affirmative action. In 1995, the Supreme Court, led by Rehnquist ruled unconstitutional the preferential treatment on race in government run programs (Lacayo et al., 2003). This ruling had far reaching implications for educational institutions and impacted current affirmative action programs that existed in government. For example, in the ruling on Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Pena (1995), a Colorado organization challenged a federal program offering general contractors financial incentives to hire minorities. This ruling supported Rehnquist's belief that programs should not be tailored to allow for the favoring of racial groupings (Lacayo et al., 2003).

Rehnquist also took a hard stance on the death penalty once again favoring social order over individual civil liberties. Stemming from his previous positions on legal searches that permitted searches by police without identification of themselves and request for entry into a premises, Rehnquist also sought to limit the opportunities of prisoners to appeal their convictions. This position is again fundamentally different from that of Warren who believed in equal justice for all even if this justice ended up in the Supreme Court. Rehnquist utilized his viewpoint in his vote on capital punishment claiming that prisoners should not be able to postpone execution through the federal appeals process. This is particularly evident in the ruling on Teague v. Lane (1989) as well as continued legislation that made the appeals process unattainable in the federal court system.

Each of these Chief Justices has had considerable influence over the United States judicial system as well as the manner in which the constitution is interpreted. While the Supreme Court attempts to strike a balance between the support of the civil liberties of the individual and the maintenance of social order, the pendulum often swings in different directions on the issue as can be seen through the rulings and voting trends of these two Chief Justices. While Warren's tenure is viewed as an upsurge of activism that produced significant expansions to court protected civil rights and access to courts to secure these rights, Rehnquist's term is a conservative one that favored social order and the swift and authoritarian punishment of the guilty. It is very possible that the difference in perspectives by ruling Chief Justices assists in maintaining the balance as the pendulum swings from one direction to the other.


Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995).

Board of Educucation. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990).

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Davis, S. (1992). Rehnquist and state courts: Federalism revisited, The Western Political Quarterly, 45(3), 773-782.

Fallon, R.H. (2002). The "conservative" paths of the Rehnquist court's federalism decisions. The University of Chicago Law Review, 69(2), 429-494.

Hammond, P.E. (2001). American church/state jurisprudence from the Warren court to the Rehnquist court. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40(3), 455-464.

Klein, S.R. (2001). Miranda's exceptions in a post-Dickenson world. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 91(3), 567-596.

Lacayo, R., Novack, V., Bacon,, P. & Milch, A. (2003). How Rehnquist changed America. Time…[continue]

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