April 18
Warren Court

warren66.jpg (14630 bytes)

The Warren Court, 1966

Back row, L to R: Justices White, Brennan, Stewart, Fortas

Front Row, L to R: Justices Clark, Black, Warren, Douglas, Harlan

The Warren Court represented the high point of judicial activism from liberals. In our coverage of the Court, we're going to focus on two of the Court's most controversial decisions, Engel v. Vitale, which outlawed mandatory school prayer, and Miranda v. Arizona, which heightened the protections for accused criminals. The Court received more protest mail as a result of the Engel decision than for any case in the history of the Court to that time.  To get a taste of the atmosphere before the Court, you can sample a recording of the oral proceedings. (Click on oral argument.)

 To begin, the Justices of the Warren Court:

Earl Warren William Brennan Hugo Black
William O. Douglas Potter Stewart Arthur Goldberg
Byron White Tom Clark John M. Harlan

secondary reading:

American Liberalism and the Warren Court's Legacy

Conservative and liberal commentary on the Warren Court

Reading notes

primary documents:

The NY Board of Regents authorized a short, voluntary prayer for recitation at the start of each school day, attempting to defuse the politically potent issue by taking it out of the hands of local communities. The blandest of invocations read as follows: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country." In the case, the Court confronted the question of whether the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the state of the school day violate the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment.
For the decision, see the majority opinion of Justice Black, the concurring opinion of Justice Douglas, and the dissenting opinion of Justice Stewart. What opinion do you find the most persuasive? Why?

In Miranda, the defendant, while in police custody, was questioned by police officers, detectives, or a prosecuting attorney in a room in which he was cut off from the outside world. He was given a full and effective warning of his rights at the outset of the interrogation process. The questioning elicited oral admissions, and, in three of them, signed statements as well, which were admitted at their trials, and resulted in a conviction. The Court confronted the question of whether law enforcement officers could use information stemming from questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way, unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination.

For the decision, see the majority opinion of Justice Warren, and the caustic dissent of Justice White. If you had been on the Supreme Court in 1966, for which side would you have voted?