The Law: Is This Strict Construction?

Despite its growing reputation for splintered decisions, judicial restraint and conservatism, the Burger Court last week confounded the instant image makers. In two decisions that drew only a single dissent, the court expanded the constitutional rights of the poor, continuing a trend that typified the heyday of Supreme Court liberalism under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

In a unanimous decision, the court held that states cannot jail a man solely because he is too poor to pay a traffic fine. At issue was the case of Preston A. Tate, a Houston laborer and chronic scofflaw...

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