The Law: Public Drunkenness Is a Crime

Doctors, lawyers and enlightened laymen have long agreed that alcoholism is a disease, not a crime. And they have taken for granted that when the right case came along, a liberal and enlightened Supreme Court would strike down the practice of punishing drunks merely for being intoxicated in a public place. So the court surprised just about everyone last week when it upheld by a 5-to-4 vote the conviction of Leroy Powell, an Austin, Texas, bootblack who has been found guilty more than 100 times of public drunkenness.

To justify its ruling, the court...