The Warren Court is believed to have left an indelible judicial footprint in the history of United States criminal justice system. The court was operational from 1953 to 1969 and was part and parcel of Supreme Court of the United States. During this time period, the Chief Justice at the helm of court rulings was Earl Warren.
He is perceived to have applied judicial power in a more pragmatic style alongside with those who belonged in the liberal majority wing. The main rationale behind this fashionable use of judicial power was to consternate opponents who pursued conservative views. This court was also proactive in expanding federal power, judicial power, civil liberties and civil rights using dramatic approaches.
In course of its operation, the Warren Court was both criticized and complimented for having made landmark rulings that eventually led to abolition of racism in United States. In order to achieve this, the court began by embracing and incorporating the Bill of Rights in the constitution that sought to end any form of prejudice and lack of equity.
This bill mainly targeted individual states. In addition, sanctioned voluntary prayer was also eliminated as a result of the new bill (Ball & Phillip, 1994). The period through which the Warren Court was in session is still considered crucial in the socio-political history of United States.
Some of the prominent members who served in the Warren Court during this time included John Marshall Harlan II, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and William J. Brennan, Jr. (Horwitz,1998)
Although the Warren Court ceased to serve a generation ago, the effects of its ideology are still widely discussed in the realm of American culture and politics. The Warren Courts decisions on racial segregation and criminal justice elicited several controversies at some point although they have been universally accepted.
Despite the positive embrace and outstanding reputation of the Warren Court ideologies, negative perception on the liberalized interpretation of the constitution is an extensive debate in the American culture and politics today. However, this paper argues that the historical and modern impact of Warren Court ideologies alongside democratic interpretation of American constitution that was adopted by Warren court has positively impacted contemporary American culture and politics.
History of American law and culture Brown (1954)
To begin with, segregation of public schools was banned in 1954. This was the first time ever when there was need for profound leadership skills and competence from the judicial system. It was also the same time when Warren Court was in operation. This came at a time when several other similar cases had caused a stir in the judiciary without much success. A case example was the 1896 case (Plessy v. Ferguson). Even the fourteenth amendment could not provide a clear path on most of the controversial cases that were being heard.
Another landmark ruling that was perceived to have positively impacted United States’ judicial process was the Reynolds v. Sims and Baker v. Carr case that sought to address one man, one vote principle. Before the final ruling of this case, rural areas were over-represented while urban areas were under-represented. It was against this backdrop that Warren embarked on an ambitious judicial reform to create fairness in terms of representation.
Rights of defendants and due process (1963-66)
The need to offer publicly funded counsel to criminal defendants was heard in a 1963 case (Gideon v. Wainwright). Although the ruling of this case was generally applauded in spite of bitter criticisms, the 21st Century America may still be stuck over apportionment and desegregation decisions that were passed by the Warren Court. There is still growing discord over the due process revolution (Tushnet, 1996).
The criminal justice was led by Warren in spite of the fact that he had spent several years working as a prosecutor. In one of his many assertions, he was displeased with what he lamented to be serious human rights violation by law enforcing officers who had undertaken several forced confessions and warrantless searches
Impact on contemporary American culture and politics
The fact that Warren had a strong political background made it possible for him to vividly understand how to go about political rulings that were supposedly forgotten or better still ignored by politicians. For instance, racial segregation in United States around this time was rife.
While the latter was a killer societal vice, politicians were apparently least concerned with it. Indeed, they failed to formulate necessary pieces of legislation that would curb this social malpractice that had grossly isolated certain races from enjoying full benefits as American citizens. In 1948, Warren was a Republican candidate vying for vice presidency seat (Ball & Phillip, 1994).
During his constitutional office holder as the Chief Justice, Warren made significant changes especially on constitutional provisions. He must have ushered in a new era and energy in the execution of law.
He was largely pragmatic in his view of the law. Indeed, fairness and equity could only be obtained in a comprehensive judicial system. We can also argue that Warren managed to pull together loose judicial strings that had made it impossible to address abuse of constitutional rights, reapportionment as well as segregation. He also laid more emphasis on broad ethical principles when executing his judgments.
He hardly used skewed interpretive structures of the constitution. Needless to say, the contemporary socio-political culture in United States was largely shaped by the famous yet sometimes controversial Warren Court rulings. For instance, racial segregation in United States became a thing of the past in most states. To date, this can be felt quite well especially due to the fact that myriad of races can co-exist with little regard of their racial backgrounds (Schwartz, 1996).
He was also instrumental in applying conventional reasoning patterns in most of his landmark and groundbreaking rulings. He tried as much as possible not to be constrained by traditional precedents that had grossly jeopardized former cases. His principles could be regarded as intuitive, political as well as philosophical. Hence, he did not fully rely on bare provisions of the law as would be expected in the conventional sense.
What made Warren Court to stand out was the fact it handled some of the most controversial cases that would have otherwise stirred much debate. Nonetheless, he was not cowed down by his critics, a judicial leadership that positively impacted socio-cultural and political setting of American citizenry.
In relation to the contemporary American societal fabric, it is imperative to note that the heightened judicial scrutiny that was evident during the six-year reign of Warren Court was very instrumental in addressing myriad of judicial malpractices. Such judicial examinations are found to be pragmatic especially in cases where there are evidences of gross abuse of human rights.
For example, when freedom of speech is lawfully denied, it may be challenged in a Supreme Court of law. However, a presiding judge has the best position to allow exemptions especially in cases where constitutional provisions seem to override the rule of law or open conventional practices. At this point, the Bill of Rights comes in handy to address any form of violation of human rights.
On the same note, it is vital to note that the Warren Court had to make use of philosophical thinking in interpreting constitutional clauses that were apparently unfair or unjustified towards some races or groups of people. The modern American society can indeed boast of a country whose judicial and criminal justice system is by far and large, fair to all.
The second legal significance of Warren court rulings in United States today can be visualized in circumstances whereby it was initially quite cumbersome to undertake transformation via ordinary political processes (Schwartz, 1996). The last case is whereby certain constitutional provisions violate basic rights of both insular and discrete minorities. Indeed, it is profound to reiterate that the doctrines of Warren Court were aggressively directed along the three assertions.
For example, the amendments that were carried out in the Bill of Rights during Warren Court era were very instrumental in setting the right pace for judicial reforms. Fortunately, all the fourteen amendments remarkably changed the face of judicial trials that is being enjoyed today.
One outstanding feature or attribute of Warren court rulings is that it unblocked the various pathways that were much needed to undertake political change. This change has been instrumental in shaping and also widening democratic space. While lack of positive political change was the major cause of human rights violation, it was also necessary for Warren courts to offer sound interpretation of the country’s constitution in order to offer justice to most immigrants who had been sidelined along their racial backgrounds.
We may not need to over-emphasize the fact that the Warren Court positively contributed towards protection of minority in society in terms of their civil rights. For example, the democratic principle of one man one vote was resounded through the court’s interpretation of the constitution even though there were no clear cut pronunciations on how minority rights could be protected against malice and prejudice (Robert, 1968).
The strong nationalistic approach towards politics that is being experienced in United States today was mainly as a consequence of most of the court’s decisions that favored nationalism rather than individualistic values.
A case in point when the court demonstrated high level of nationalistic thrust when it offered a comprehensive interpretation of powers of the Congress as stipulated in Commerce Clause. Moreover, the Warren court was hardly willing to admit constitutional rights to be exercised differently among the different states. This was profoundly witnessed in Cooper v. Aaron case (Horwitz, 1998).
Furthermore, the rights of belonging being manifested in United States today were ushered in during the Warren court rulings. Notwithstanding the diverse cultural and political backgrounds in United States, there is a strong feeling that both citizens and aliens are part and parcel of a unified national community (Scheiber, 2007).
Besides, there is fairness in the sense that equity is being embraced at all levels of governance namely local, state and federal. In other words, Warren Court decisions paved way for a relatively fair society where prejudice and racial pursuits are no longer fashionable.
It is also imperative to underscore the fact that Warren Court decisions brought live debate among supporters and critics, an attribute that has created a healthy ground for further examination of judicial system.
This was necessary bearing in mind that myriad of both political and social changes that have been initiated by modern courts relied heavily on foundation and judicial goodwill of the Warren Court. Some of those who were very critical of Warren Court decisions argued that the latter had forfeited its role of straightforward interpretation of the constitution and instead assumed the role of an activist in search of justice (Ball & Phillip, 1994).
Nonetheless, it may be vital to mention that only 17 acts of Congress were validated by the Warren Court during the six-year period. Indeed, these validations of constitutional clauses were necessary in order to pave way for a more proactive judicial system. It would also be wrong to argue that the court forfeited its legal mandate of interpreting the constitution bearing in mind that the only most vital way to unlock political change would be through judicial activism.
As a matter of fact, Warren Court came in handy with radical and sometimes controversial decisions that all the same, addressed some of the most pressing issues of that time. Comparatively, the Rehnquist Court which had adopted a more conservative approach in its rulings could be considered to be less practical in as far as the much needed political change in United States. Between 1995 and 2003, the latter court did away with a total of 33 acts (Scheiber, 2007).
In a nutshell, the positive impacts of Warren Court decisions were replicated years later. The broad democratic and fair judicial system in United States today is indeed a life time experience to reckon with.
Ball, H. & Phillip C. (1994). Fighting Justices: Hugo L. Black and William O. Douglas and Supreme Court Conflict. American Journal of Legal History, 38(1): 1-37.
Horwitz, J.M. (1998). The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice. New York: Hill and Wang Publishers.
Robert L. C. (1968). The Warren Court and Desegregation, Michigan Law Review, 67(2), 237-248.
Scheiber, H.N. (2007). Earl Warren and the Warren Court: The Legacy in American and Foreign Law. Plymouth: Lexington Books.
Schwartz, B. (1996). The Warren Court: A Retrospective. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.
Tushnet, M. (1996). The Warren Court: in Historical and Political Perspective, Virginia: University of Virginia Press.