Courts: Problem of Quality

Is he an ambassador? Is he a Cabinet member? Though the title has an august ring, a U.S. commissioner is not nearly so easy to define. In Mississippi, for example, a suddenly famous U.S. commissioner has turned out to be a middle-aged spinster totally devoid of legal training, but with the power to release 19 men accused of complicity in the murder of three civil rights workers, on the ground that one accused's confession was "hearsay" (TIME, Dec. 18).

Commissioner Esther Carter's ignorance is in the best (or worst) tradition of an ancient office that now requires no...

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