The Law: The Legacy of the Warren Court

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2) Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which outlawed racial segregation in the public schools. Separate schools for Negroes were "inherently unequal," ruled the court, because the system generates feelings of inferiority in the black children "that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." Brown helped to prepare public opinion for a long series of civil rights bills and later court rulings that enforced laws against discrimination in voting, public accommodations and housing.

3) Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which declared that a man accused of a felony has a right to free counsel if he cannot afford a lawyer. Gideon was not the first of the court's landmark decisions in criminal law. Mapp v. Ohio (1961) had announced the important principle that evidence seized in an illegal search may not be introduced at a man's trial. But Gideon was the first sign of the court's concern for protecting accused criminals who may not be able to defend themselves. It was followed by Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), which held that a suspect may not be prevented from seeing his lawyer during a police interrogation. The most controversial decision of all was Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which called on the police to warn a suspect of his rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer before being questioned. Otherwise, said the court, any confession taken from the suspect may not be introduced at his trial.

Though there is no evidence that Miranda occasioned the release of large numbers of criminals, the decision did turn against the court a large group of Americans who are concerned about crime rates. A poll published by the Gallup organization last month disclosed that a majority in the nation not only opposes the Miranda decision but also the 1963 ruling that barred prayers and Bible reading in public schools, and a 1965 decision declaring that compulsory registration of Communist Party members was unconstitutional.

Sphere of Iron. Appointed by President Eisenhower in 1953 after three terms as Governor of California, Earl Warren joined a court that was dominated by two more penetrating thinkers than he, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. In his initial years, says Columbia Government Professor Alan Westin, the new Chief Justice was "a large, powerful sphere of iron drawn between two magnetic potes." Initially, he leaned toward Frankfurter, the ex-Harvard professor who argued brilliantly for a more restrained role for the court. But eventually Warren, more a man of action than reflection, found Black's judicial activism preferable.

Warren made an imprint on the court largely because of the strong moral direction that he imparted to it. A man of stern humanitarian ideals, he loomed on the bench as a kind of Old Testament lawgiver, who approached issues with a disarming simplicity. "You'd see this paterfamilias insisting on the justice of the black man's cause," noted Michael Meltsner, a young lawyer for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, who has argued before the Warren court. "Almost every question was directed toward justice, not technicalities."

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