The Law: The Legacy of the Warren Court

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In the high, marbled central chamber of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren sat last week for the last time as the 14th Chief Justice of the United States. It was an occasion of ceremony and speechmaking. Richard Nixon was there to watch Warren Earl Burger, the man he had named as Warren's successor, take his oath of office. But the President put in an appearance for another reason: to offer symbolic support to an institution that he himself had attacked so harshly during last year's election campaign. Emphasizing the court's importance as an instrument of "continuity with change," Nixon praised Warren for having personified "fairness, integrity and dignity" during his 16 years as Chief Justice. In his valedictory reply, delivered with an occasional quaver, Warren said of the court: "We serve only the public interest as we see it, guided only by the Constitution and our own consciences."

Decision Days. Until the very last, the court that Warren led demonstrated its overriding concern with the rights of the individual—even though many critics complained that in some instances it had already gone too far. Just minutes before Burger's swearing-in, it handed down three decisions that further protect the rights of criminal defendants: > In a pair of cases from Alabama and North Carolina, the court ruled that a man who gets a criminal conviction set aside but is convicted a second time on the same charge, may not be given a longer sentence without any justification. Bad conduct after the first trial may be sufficient reason for a harsher sentence, the court said, but a man may not be punished merely for exercising his right of appeal. By a 7-to-l majority, the court ruled that unless the trial record adequately explains the reason for the longer term, the defendant has been deprived of due process.

> In a Maryland case, the court declared by a 6-to-2 vote that the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy applies to the states. In so ruling, the court upheld John Dalmer Benton, who had been convicted of burglary and acquitted of a larceny charge at one trial. Benton had sought a new trial on the burglary charge, but instead was retried—and convicted—on both charges. > In a California decision, the I. most important of the three, the court reversed the conviction of a numismatist named Ted Chimel, who was sentenced to prison in 1966 for stealing rare coins. When police arrested Chimel at his home in Santa Ana, Calif., they examined the premises without a search warrant and found some of the stolen coins. Such searches are common. Many police departments, seeking to avoid the necessity of justifying a search warrant before a judge, wait to arrest a suspect at his home, then claim that the search is "incident to a valid arrest" and therefore legal. A 6-to-2 majority of the Justices disagreed. Police, they said, may search an arrested man's person and, to prevent him from destroying evidence, "the area within his reach." But if broader searches were permitted without a court warrant, they concluded, the Fourth Amendment privilege against unreasonable search would "approach the evaporation point."

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