The first objective is to examine the background of Chief Justice Earl Warren who sat on the Supreme Court from 1953-1969.He was born on March 19, 1891 in Los Angeles, California; however, he grew up in Bakersfield. His parents were Scandinavians who had emigrated to the U.S. as young children. His mother Christine Hernlund came from Sweden, his father Methias Varan from Norway. Earl’s uncle changed the family name to Warren after they settled in the United States. Teachers might ask students why his uncle might have changed the family Suggest to students that sometimes immigrants changed their surnames to be more American. According to Christine Compton in Earl Warren, Justice for All, Earl’s parents were eager to take advantage of the opportunities in America. His father worked as a car repairman for the Southern Pacific Railroad, but lost his job in 1894 after joining the famous Pullman strike. As a young boy Earl worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a callboy for the train and engine crew. As he explains in his memoirs, the money he made was his to keep and to save for his future. According to Warren he was often embarrassed when people tried to suggest that he worked his way through school and supported the family. While it was true that he held many odd jobs, Warren emphatically states that the money he made did not support his family. (Warren 23) According to Morton J. Horwitz in The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice, Warren experienced firsthand while working on the railroad the inequality of power between large corporations and vulnerable and unorganized workers. (Horwitz 6) Teachers might engage students in a discussion on how early experiences might shape a person’s belief in later life. Ask students if they have any memories of significant events in their early lives that they believe might have helped to shape their personality today. Students might also be encouraged to ask their parents and relatives about their early childhood experiences. Have these experiences had any impact on their lives?
The Warrens were very private people and were reluctant to show their feelings. According to Christine Compton in Earl Warren, Justice For All, Earl maintained this reserve throughout his entire life as a public servant. Warren attended the University of California at Berkeley and its law school, Boalt Hall. He served briefly in the army during World War I and then joined the district attorney’s office in Alameda County for what he thought would be a short term. He ended up staying for 18 years, 13 of them as district attorney where ironically he had probably slighted the rights of the accused. Although his intellect was never really praised he was notable for being warm, sincere, outgoing, honest and hardworking. (Powe 24) He proved to be an effective as well as a tough prosecutor, but showed his philosophy of fairness by fighting for a public defender’s office for indigents. A 1932 survey listed Warren as the best district attorney in the United States, a fact often ignored by those who accused him later in life as being “soft on crime”. (Urofsky 32) Teachers should ask students if they understand the expression “soft on crime.” Have they heard any one in recent times accused of being “soft on crime”? Such a phrase is popularly used especially during election years. Teachers should ask students to watch for examples of elected officials who have been labeled as such. They might want to research the 1988 presidential campaign in which the name of Willie Horton became a household phrase when considering a candidate who might be labeled “soft on crime”
In 1938 Warren ran successfully for attorney general of California. Warren is remembered most for his role in demanding the relocation and evacuation of the Japanese from the west coast during World War II. Though his actions seemed inconsistent with his future decisions while on the Supreme Court, Warren maintained that at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. He later acknowledged in his memoirs that he deeply regretted his action in favor of internment. (Warren 147) Students should be reminded that during World War II Japanese Americans were locked up in U.S. internment camps. For them, the war was a daily struggle to maintain their dignity in the face of an injustice. Many young men escaped the camps by volunteering for military service. Teachers might engage students in a lively discussion by asking them to take a point of view concerning the internment. Divide students into groups and have them debate the two different points of view. First, the Japanese internment was necessary for the national defense of America during World War II or second, the Japanese American internment was an unnecessary and a racist act.
Warren also served three terms as governor of California. The popular candidate easily won the election for the first time in 1942, being considered a nonpartisan Republican. Teachers should ask students if they understand the term non-partisan. Do they think politics today is non-partisan? Students should be encouraged to bring in examples of programs or laws that have been recently passed that have had the support of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress.
In 1952 Warren played a key role in the election of Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency of the United States. Warren agreed to end his own political ambitions to be president and throw his support behind Dwight D. Eisenhower. In return Eisenhower promised to appoint Warren to the United States Supreme Court. Warren had campaigned for Eisenhower bringing both Republican and Democratic support from the state of California. Warren had been such a popular govenor that he had previously won the support in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. It is believed that as a result of his support for the candidate Eisenhower, Warren was promised the first vacancy on the Supreme Court. Ask students if they feel this is part of a spoils system. Remind students that this system was one in which faithful political supporters were rewarded government jobs. Do the students believe this is a fair practice? What if a person is truly qualified for the appointment? Should that person be penalized because they also happen to support the winning candidate? Warren had actually been willing to serve as U.S. Solicitor General until he felt better prepared to sit in the Supreme Court. Howwitz suggests that Warren knew he was not yet ready to sit on the Supreme Court because the atmosphere of the court was”intellectually high powered.” (Horwitz 7) As a result of the unexpected death of the present Chief Justice Fred Vinson, Warren was appointed before he could become Solicitor General. It has been suggested that Eisenhower tried to go back on his promise of a Court seat for Warren especially since the first vacant seat was that of Chief Justice. (Howitz 8) Teachers should ask students why they think Eisenhower was trying to back out of his promise. What was there about Warren that might have troubled Eisenhower? Was it that he was not considered an intellectual heavy weight? What qualities do they think are necessary to be a judge? Is legal brilliance really necessary and what role do the law clerks play in helping a justice research a case? Ask students also to consider what was it about Warren that have many legal historians considering him to be rated as one of the greatest Chief Justices in the Court’s history. According to Bernard Schwartz in A History of the Supreme Court “there have been scholars and there have been great justices on the Supreme Court. But the scholars have not always been great justices and the great justices have not always been scholars.” (Schwartz 265) Ask students what Schwartz meant by this statement. Do they believe that scholarship is necessary for excellent leadership? Warren clearly was not the most scholarly justice on the Court; however, his leadership abilities and skill as a statesman enabled him to be an extremely effective Chief Justice. Students interested in the other Chief Justices of the Supreme Court might want to research others who were not considered to be the most scholarly member of the Court, but clearly excelled at leading the Court in the direction they wanted to go in. The Chief Justice occupies the center seat on the Court, and while his or her vote is no greater than any other, the Chief presides over the oral arguments as well as the conferences at which the justices decide cases. The Chief Justice also has the power to assign the writing of opinions. A strong Chief Justice can have a major impact on the work of the Court while a weak Chief Justice can find himself overpowered by his strong colleagues and end up presiding over a judicial battlefield.
The second objective to be considered is to have students trace and understand the development of the
case. On May 17, 1954 Earl Warren had been sitting on the Court as Chief Justice for only a year when the
Brown v the Board of
decision was handed down. The nine justices of the Supreme Court agreed that “in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place” Writing for the Court Chief Justice Warren concluded that “in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place.” According to Lucas Powe, Warren had done what Chief Justices have done since John Marshall. When a controversial case is being decided where the prestige of the Court is on the line, the Court speaks through the Chief Justice. (Powe 27) The Court had just struck down more than a half century of constitutional law stemming from the decision put forth by
Plessy v. Ferguson
, 1896 where “separate but equal” was legal. By putting his name on the opinion, the Chief Justice put the prestige of the Court on the line. The character of the Court was beginning to take shape, as Warren was able to maneuver a unanimous decision.
Where had it all begun? Before examining the
case teachers will need to explain the origin of the phrase “separate but equal”. Encourage interested students to research the arguments and decisions presented in the case
Plessy v. Ferguson,
1896. Students should be assigned the task of writing a brief or creating a dramatization in which small groups of students present each side of the argument to their classmates. Explain to students that this case arose out of a carefully planned strategy to test the legality of a Louisiana state law. This law gave constitutional sanction to virtually all forms of segregation in the United States until after World War II.
In September 1891, “elite persons of color” in New Orleans formed the Citizens Committee to test the constitutionality of the separate railroad car law for blacks and whites. The committee raised three thousand dollars for the cost of a test case. The attorney who agreed to take this case was a white man by the name of Albion Tourgee. He was considered to be one of the nation’s leading advisors for African American rights. Tell students that Tourgee agreed to work on this case without pay. Students might be interested in researching any present day civil rights cases where the attorneys have agreed to work for no fee. Ask students to consider the effect that “free” publicity might have on a present day case as compared to the year 1892. Ask students to consider the various types of media that exist today that did not exist in the time of Tourgee.
The case of Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
It all began in June, 1882, when Homer Plessy, a black man purchased a first class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad and sat down in a car reserved for whites. When he was asked to move to the car where blacks were restricted, he refused. Subsequently, he was arrested and arraigned before Judge John Ferguson. Plessy then sued to prevent Ferguson from conducting any further proceedings against him. Eventually his challenge reached the United States Supreme Court.
Before the Court, Tourgee argued that segregation violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition of involuntary servitude and denied blacks equal protection of the laws, which was guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. These amendments along with the Declaration of Independence, gave Americans affirmative rights against discrimination. The lawyers for the Louisiana railroad disagreed. They argued that the separate facilities for black passengers were just as good as the facilities for the white passengers.
The Supreme Court sided with the railroad and ruled that the separation of the races in pubic accommodations was legal and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision established the doctrine of “separate but equal” which allowed the states to maintain separate facilities for blacks and whites so long as they provided equal service. In other words,” if the cars for blacks were of equal quality to those enjoyed by white passengers,” the Court said, then the demands of the Constitution had been satisfied and the rights of black people had not been violated. The vote in this case was 8 to 1 with Justice Henry Brown writing the majority decision and Justice John Marshall Harlan writing the dissenting opinion. In his decision Justice Brown wrote “…if one race is considered to be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane…” Ask students to interpret the words of Justice Brown. This case left the door wide open for the many Jim Crow laws that were passed that segregated the races in just about every public facility. Students should be encouraged to research the origin of Jim Crow and report back to the class. Only one Justice dissented in this case. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote “…The thin disguise of equal accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone or atone for the wrong this day done…” Harlan added,”what can more certainly arouse hate, what can more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races than state enactment which in fact proceed on the grounds that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens…” Ask students to interpret the words of Harlan. Do they agree with him? Tell students that more than five decades would pass before the Supreme Court would reverse this decision and the South would build a legal system rooted in social segregation. Plessy left racial attitudes to the states; something that the southern states embraced as an old fashioned state’s rights issue. Social equality became unattainable as Plessy denied that law could change attitudes. Tell students that by 1899 blacks and whites were separated in schools, restaurants, in restrooms, at drinking fountains, hospitals, and even cemeteries, as Jim Crow began to show its ugly head. The rights of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1876 were ignored when it came to African-American citizens. Teachers might want to assign students the task of researching the content of the stated Amendments and Act and have the students report back to the class. Teachers should tell students to imagine being unable to attend the school of their choice because of their race or being forced to attend a school with inferior facilities. How do they think they would feel or react? This was the situation that African Americans, especially in the South were faced with every day of their lives.
Background to Brown v. the Board of Education, 1954
The road to
Brown v. the Board of Education
began with decisions that chipped away at the segregationist’s tenets of
Plessy v. Ferguson.
The NAACP had been fighting the battle of racial segregation since 1909. One influential figure in this campaign was a brilliant Howard University professor named Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston served as chief counsel for the NAACP from 1934-1938. In deciding the legal strategy he considered the blatant inequality between the separate schools that many states provided for the two races. It was not uncommon for states to spend ten times as much money educating a white child as it did educating a black child. It was to this injustice that Howard chose to focus his energy and the limited resources of the organization. For help, Howard recruited some of his most able law students to prepare a battery of cases to take before the Supreme Court. In 1938 he placed his team under the direction of a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall. Over the next 23 years Marshall and his NAACP lawyers would win many cases involving segregation. Interested students should be assigned to research the life of Thurgood Marshall. Have them find obituaries in national news magazines such as
, etc. Then ask them to summarize the obituaries for the rest of the class.
Several of the cases that Marshall and his team won became legal milestones towards the Brown decision. One of the first challenges came in 1938 when the Court ordered that a black student, Lloyd Gaines be admitted to an all-white law school at the University of Missouri. Missouri had no law school for African Americans. The state’s offer to pay for the tuition of Gaines to attend an out of state law school was unacceptable because Gaines was a citizen of Missouri and planned to open a law practice in that state. (Goode 35) A similar challenge arose in 1950 in the case
Sweatt v. Painter
. Mr. Sweatt had been denied admission to the University of Texas law school solely on the basis of race. The law school had denied him admission because the educational facilities had been made available to blacks at a recently established law school in Texas. The Supreme Court agreed unanimously that the Texas law school for whites was far superior. In his written decision Chief Justice Vinson stated “Texas law schools for whites offered a far greater degree of those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement, but which make for greatness in a law school. These qualities were reputation of the faculty, experience of the administration, position and influence of the alumni, standing in the community, traditions, and prestige.” The Texas law school had none of these qualities and the Court ordered the white law school to admit Mr. Sweatt. The decision in this case upheld the plaintiff’s complaint that the Texas Law School for blacks could not be held to the same high standards as the white Texas Law School. This decision did not override” separate but equal”, but it challenged it. Interested students should be assigned the task of investigating in more detail the facts of this case and offer then to the rest of the class. Why do they think Marshall started his challenges with graduate schools rather than high schools or elementary schools?
By July 28, 1947 Houston and Marshall were ready to bring the challenge of racial segregation from the graduate school level to the public school level. Between the years 1947 and 1954 there were five cases that challenged racial segregation in public schools. These cases came from four different states and the District of Columbia. A good overview of this situation may be presented by having students view the film
Separate but Equal
starring Sydney Poitier. This film is an extremely factual account of Thurgood Marshall’s campaign against segregated schools in the South. It shows how he had to convince the NAACP lawyers to support the lawsuits of these parents suing their respective states and the District of Columbia for fair and equal treatment. It was not easy to convince parents to be plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the segregation laws. Ask students what do they think would be some of the fears of these African-American parents. Why would they be reluctant to put their name on a lawsuit? The Court lumped the cases together in a single ruling named for the case concerning nine-year-old Linda Brown. Her father, Oliver Brown, had charged the Board of Education in Topeka Kansas with violating Linda’s rights by denying her admission to an all white elementary school four blocks from her home. The state had directed that Linda attend the all black elementary school, which was much farther away. As a matter of fact, Linda would have to cross a railroad yard and then take a bus to the school located 21 blocks from her home. Parents in the other three states were also outraged. Harry Briggs of Clarendon, South Carolina was incensed that his five children had to attend schools that operated on one fourth the amount of money given to white schools. (Irons 383) Ethel Belton took her complaints to the Delaware Board of Education when her children were forced to ride a bus for nearly two hours each day instead of walking to the school nearest their home. In Farmville, Virginia 16-year-old Barbara Johns led her fellow students on a strike for a better school. All over the country, black students and parents were angered over the conditions of their schools. NAACP lawyers studied their grievances and decided it was not enough to keep fighting for equal facilities, but rather they wanted all schools integrated. It seemed as if the time was now right for the Supreme Court to finally revisit the “
separate but equal ruling”
that had been the law for over fifty years.
The case of Brown v. the Board of Education, Topeka Kansas, 1954
case first came before the Supreme Court during the 1952 term when Fred Vinson was the Chief Justice. This case was actually a collection of five cases from four states and the District of Columbia. Court scheduling put the
on the Supreme Court docket when the five cases were combined for argument and decision The five cases included
Gebhart v. Belton
Brown v. Board of
Briggs v. Elliott
, (South Carolina)
Davis v. County School Board of
Prince Edward County (Virginia)
Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia)
The Court heard them all together under the name of
because they all dealt with the same issue of racially segregated schools. Teachers might want to divide the class into four groups. Assign each group one of the above cases. Have the students research the facts of each case and report their findings back to the entire class
There were probably five justices leaning toward overruling
after the first argument, but the remaining four justices Vinson, Reed, Jackson, and Clark seemed far away from agreeing. Justice Frankfurter succeeded in postponing the case until the next term by requesting reargument “specifically directed to the question of the historical scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The reasoning was that maybe a delay would help and it did. (Horwitz 12) On September 8, 1953, Vinson died of a heart attack. This was, Frankfurter commented privately to his law clerks, “the first indication that I have ever had that there is a God.”(Powe 24)
With the death of Chief Justice Vinson, a vacancy now had to be filled on the Supreme Court. Although he scarcely knew him President Eisenhower, prior to being elected President had promised the first opening on the Supreme Court to Earl Warren. Warren had been responsible for delivering the support of the Republican delegates to Eisenhower at the National Convention. What role would the new Chief play in the Brown decision? As it soon became apparent, Warren was able to use his skills of governing to steer the decision of the Court to overturn the
decision. No one praised Warren for his strong intellect, but almost everyone acknowledged his warmth and sincerity, his principles and strong work ethic. He was admired for his moral leadership. As governor he learned the philosophy of governing. (Powe 190) Warren, as well as Frankfurter was concerned over the necessity of having a unanimous decision in such an important case. Frankfurter was anxious over the prestige of the Court. According to Powe the oral arguments in the Brown case should debunk any notion that it was an easy decision to gain unanimity. Frankfurter was noted as saying…”you do not argue for ten hours a question that is self-evident…” Once Warren took over he requested that the justices take no vote and avoid a hard-line decision, until discussion had taken place in Conference.” The Court was thoroughly conscious of the importance of the decision to be arrived at and the impact it would have on the nation and we realized the necessity for secrecy and for achieving unanimity… (Warren 282).
It was clear from the outset that
case had the five necessary votes to overturn
but that is not the route that Warren wanted to travel. There are many stories about how Chief Justice Warren patiently brought Justices Reed, Jackson, and Clark aboard. I am sure his personality played a role in convincing some of these justices. He has been described as having warmth, sincerity, strong principles and the ability to provide moral leadership. In a manner that was to become his judicial trademark, Warren immediately framed the question before the Court as a moral issue. (Horwitz 24) The decision itself was short, only eleven pages. Warren wanted it this way. As a former politician he knew the importance of getting his message across and a short decision could be printed in the newspaper in its entirety. (Powe 29) Students should be encouraged to research Warren’s role in securing a unanimous decision. Students should present their findings to the class. Students should also be encouraged to research the arguments presented to the Court by Attorney Thurgood Marshall. Marshall’s argument rested on the psychological effects of segregation. He produced expert testimony demonstrating that segregation lowers the esteem of African American children, thus segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision was read in Court by the Chief Justice which said in part, “…to separate those children from others of similar age and qualification solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect the hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone…Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal…Any language in
Plessy v. Ferguson
contrary to these findings is rejected.” Warren was careful in his decision not to place blame on any group for the years of discrimination. Ask students if they feel that the Warren Court should have gone further in its decision and remarked about the inequity of the schools or the years that African-American children were made to feel inferior to white children. Do they believe it is up to the Supreme Court to lay blame or should citizens as a whole step up to the plate and take responsibility for their own actions. Students might be interested in researching the headlines in southern and northern newspapers of the time. Do they see any difference in the attitudes of the southerners or the northerners in their reactions to the decision of the Supreme Court and if so, why do they think that was the case?
One of the dominant southern themes concerning this decision was that instead of applying the law, the Court had imposed its will. Some critics especially southern Senators even accused the Warren Court of being a lawless Court. Ask students if they believe the Court has the right to impose morality on the people. Remind them that the Supreme Court has no direct responsibility to the people of the United States and that they are not accountable to any electorate. Shouldn’t Congress be the branch to pass a law dealing with segregated schools? Remind students that southern Democrats who were virtually responsible to an all white electorate dominated Congress in 1950. There was no way they were about to pass a law dealing with segregated schools. Tell students that Justice Jackson addressed this question in his unpublished opinion. “The Constitution must be interpreted in light of current conditions to accommodate current needs.” Jackson went on to say”…I suppose that the reason this case is here is that action couldn’t be obtained from Congress”
The Brown II case
In May 1955 the Supreme Court handed down the implementation decision that came to be known as Brown II. Again it was unanimous. The crucial phrase in the “all deliberate speed” belonged to Justice Frankfurter who had borrowed the phrase from an opinion of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. (Simon 224) This phrase was a signal from the Court that they understood the South’s dilemma in implementing such a decision and they would be given time. But how much time? Maybe the Supreme Court was being too optimistic and assumed that the Brown decision would lead to prompt desegregation of schools. Remind students that states considered to be in the upper south, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma took steps to comply with the “new law of the land” So did the western states that had permitted segregation. But Virginia and the Deep South held back. Exactly what does the phrase “with all deliberate speed” mean? Students often engage in a lively discussion of this topic. If I say to my students that they have an important research project to hand in that will make up a large percentage of their grade, they would naturally be quite anxious over when it is exactly due. If I said to them that they were to work on this with “all deliberate speed” they would probably react with the question- exactly what do you mean by “with all deliberate speed”? Does that mean we can hand it in whenever were are finished or is there an exact date this paper is due? Is it to be on my time schedule or your time schedule? What do you mean? And herein lays the problem with
It was left up to the states to decide when they would begin to enforce the Court’s ruling.
Some of the southern states were resisting because they felt they had the right to impose their own social order. Even President Eisenhower was reluctant to take sides in the desegregation battle. He believed that voluntary action by southern states, rather than federal force would lead to the quickest progress with the fewest problems. (Powe 36) As time went on problems erupted. Calls for massive resistance were heard from Mississippians to resist integration and preserve all white schools. Violence broke out and membership in the Ku Klux Klan increased. Lynching of African-Americans was on the rise, the murder of a young teenage boy in Mississippi, Emmett Till occurred and rioting took place at the University of Mississippi when an African-American student, Autherine Lucy was admitted. In 1956, one hundred southern members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto denouncing the decision of the Supreme Court as a clear use of judicial power and urged the states to use all lawful means to defy it. Citing the state rights interpretation of the Constitution, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida declared the Brown decision null and void. Now what! Teachers should engage students in discussion on what should have been done next. Ask students if they believe the Supreme Court overstepped its authority? Do they have the right to make laws when the federal law conflicts with state laws or must the states always bow to the decisions of the federal courts? How do they think the struggle for school desegregation between 1954 and 1957 might have been different if the federal government had acted more forcefully? Many of the students at Wilbur Cross High School have relatives who are from the South. Teachers should assign students the task of interviewing their grandparents, great aunts and great uncles to find out what it was like for them living in a southern state during this time. Tell them they will be conducting an oral history. Encourage them to video or tape their conversations and bring them in to share with the class. Students often tell me that their grandparents never shared this information with them until they actually sat down with them and showed their interest by asking questions. This activity brings this time period in history closer to home for many of our students and makes history come alive.
Many people feel that the
“all deliberate speed” formula failed. They point to what happened at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas as an example. In the summer of 1957 two years after the
decision the city of Little Rock made plans to desegregate its public schools. Its school board had voted unanimously for a plan starting the desegregation of the high school to be followed in 1958 by the middle and elementary schools. But the smooth transition to the school’s integration was not to be.
The Ernest Green Story
is a dramatic recreation of this event. It examines the desegregation of Central High School and at the same time shows racism at its ugliest and determination at its most magnificent. This is the story in the lives of nine teenage students and their year at Central High School. The Governor of the state, Orval Faubus tries to block the federal court order by calling out the Arkansas National Guard. He says it’s to keep the peace, but everyone realizes it is to keep the black students out of the school. After two and a half weeks President Eisenhower called out the 101st airborne division to go to Little Rock and enforce the court order. I have shown this film every year to my students and they love it. It leads to lively discussions, not only about the Civil Rights movement and racism, but also the concept of states rights v. federal rights. Earl Warren was incensed that any state governor should try to tell the Court what was legal or illegal about school desegregation, which Faubus sought to do. (Warren 290) Students usually react very strongly to viewing the film
The Ernest Green Story
that accurately documents the desegregation of Central High School in 1957 in Little Rock Arkansas. So where are we now? It has been 50 years since the Brown decision. Some believe it was the most important case of the 20th century. Many believe that the Brown decision was the catalyst that opened up freedom and official recognition of equality. Others believe inequality still exists in the schools today. Teachers should open up discussion on the issue of whether or not the
decision has failed in its basic mission: to provide an equal and integrated education for minority students. How is integration possible in a city that has a majority of minority students? Today, children in New Haven attend a school system that is 89% minority. One of the realities of today is that urban areas are often non-white. So maybe the question then should be how do we guarantee to all students an equal and high quality education? Do the schools have to be integrated in order to do this and if not how do you go about trying to balance then racially?
The third objective of this unit is to have students analyze and understand those cases that affected criminal procedure. Teachers might want to begin studying this objective by having students examine the case
Gideon v Wainwright
1963.This case mandating that the court provide an attorney for indigents was probably the Warren Court’s only popular criminal procedure decision. (Powe 379) Earl Warren felt a commitment to establish rules governing criminal procedure-intended to extend the rights contained in the Fifth Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to all individuals accused of criminal acts. The rulings in the cases will demonstrate the principles of equal justice under the law. Teachers should remind students that Warren had a background as a prosecutor in the state of California for more than a dozen years. He was well acquainted with how law enforcement operates and was committed to correcting the inequalities caused by social and economic differences. His goal in these cases was to establish clear guidelines for putting into effect the rights guaranteed in the Constitution that all Americans, not just the wealthy would be protected from unfair practices. (Urofsky 170) Considered one of the most famous cases,
1963 held that the right to counsel is “…fundamental and essential to trial and for that reason must be honored in state as well as in federal courts...” This decision overturned the 1942 case of
Betts v. Brady.
Students should be assigned the task of researching the facts and the decision in the Betts case. Teachers should point out that Warren had instructed his law clerks to look for a case that would allow the court to revisit the decision set by
Betts v. Brady.
They found such a case in the petition of Clarence Earl Gideon.
The case of Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963
Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Florida for breaking and entering into a poolroom and stealing coin from the vending machines there. Brought to trial, he asked the judge to appoint a lawyer for him. He had no money to pay for an attorney. The judge informed Mr. Gideon that the state of Florida only had to provide a court appointed attorney in capital crimes. Gideon then tried to act as his own attorney and put on a defense for himself. Unfortunately, he did an extremely poor job. Although the trial judge tried to assist him, he did not know what questions to ask or the procedure to follow. The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to jail time in the Florida State prison. While in prison he petitioned the Supreme Court requesting that the justices review his case on the grounds that the Sixth amendment, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth amendment, guarantees the right to counsel. Gideon was mistaken on this point for the states were not required by the Constitution to provide a free attorney. This only applied in federal courts.
Once the Supreme Court accepted the appeal from Gideon, Chief Justice Warren appointed a brilliant attorney Abe Fortas to defend Gideon’s argument in front of the Supreme Court. In the end the justices ruled unanimously to overturn the 1942 ruling in
Betts v. Brady
case. Defendants in state court accused of a felony now must be provided with a free court appointed attorney.
Teachers might want to have the students view the film
starring Henry Fonda as Clarence Earl Gideon. Anthony Lewis bases this film on the book Gideon’s Trumpet. It offers a remarkable recreation of the entire judicial process from the arrest of Gideon to the final vote by the Supreme Court. The film usually engages students in lively discussions about whether or not a person can have a fair trial without a lawyer. Ask students what is a lawyer able to do for his client that a person defending himself cannot do. Do they believe the Florida law unfairly discriminated against people who were poor? Ask students what they think of Justice Black’s 1956 remark made in the case
Griffin v. Illinois “
…There can be no justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” Is there any truth to the idea that the absence of counsel means the absence of justice? Do students believe that today a poor man receives the same justice as a rich man? I remind students that although they are entitled to a court appointed attorney for felonies and some misdemeanors, the attorneys are still being paid by the state. Often they are overworked and underpaid and cannot devote the same attention to your case that a high priced lawyer probably will be able to do. Is this fair? Maybe all cases should be defended by public defenders? Would that guarantee equal justice for all or just bad justice for all? Students really enjoy discussing this topic in class.
The case of Escobedo v. Illinois, 1964
The second case to be examined is
Escobedo v Illinois
, 1964. The decision in this case expanded the meaning of the right of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth amendment to include not only one’s defense at a criminal trial, but also during a police interrogation. The Court ruled by a slim vote of five to four “… that when the investigation is no longer a general inquiry… but has begun to focus on a particular suspect…and where the suspect has been taken into custody…and the suspect has requested a lawyer…and the police have not informed him of his rights to remain silent, the accused has been denied…counsel in violation of the sixth Amendment.”
The Supreme Court ruled in this case that the confession of Daniel Escobedo must be thrown out and held that the accused must be allowed to consult with a lawyer once he becomes a prime suspect in a case. This case dates back to the one night in January 1960 when Escobedo and an accomplice were arrested for the murder of Escobedo’s brother-in-law. The police questioned the two men separately. While being interrogated Escobedo asked several times that his lawyer be present, but the police told him that his lawyer did not want to see him. In fact, his lawyer came to the police station, but the police would not let him see his client. Escobedo’s lawyer, a man named Walter Wolfson got to the police station shortly after Escobedo arrived. He remained at the police station waiting to have a chance to talk to Escobedo. Once Wolfson even saw Escobedo briefly through a doorway, but was not allowed to get close enough to talk to him. One of the police officers at the Chicago station knew Escobedo and his family. He spoke to Daniel for about 15 minutes alone and in private. Escobedo told the officer that Benedict DeGerlando had murdered his brother-in-law. This was the first time that Daniel had admitted to any knowledge of the crime. Shortly after the District Attorney took a statement from him. After this formal confession Daniel’s lawyer was finally allowed to see him. At his trial Escobedo said that the police told him that he and his sister could go home if he admitted that his friend DeGerlando had committed the crime. The officer stated that this was not true and no deal was ever made with Daniel. Escobedo was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 20 years in the state prison. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld his conviction. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court reversed the decision in a very close vote. Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote the Court’s decision and Chief Justice Warren, and Justices Black, Brennan, and Douglas joined him.
Teachers should present the facts of this case to the class without telling them the decision of the Court. Ask the students at what time should a person be told that they are a suspect in a crime. At what time should a person be told that they have the right to an attorney? If Escobedo had been provided with an attorney during questioning, do they think he would have confessed? Remind students that some people become very “anxious” when they feel threatened in any way. Ask them how they would feel if they were suddenly sent down to the principle’s office, accused of a wrongdoing and not allowed to call their parents. Would they feel scared in any way? Would they feel isolated? Might they just say anything to get out of that office? Sometimes being around people who are perceived to have some authority makes other people very nervous. Teachers should also open up discussion to students concerning the reaction of the public in 1964 when this decision was handed down. Many people felt the Court was now coddling criminals. They started to question whether the Court was going too far in handing out right to the accused. They felt that the justices were becoming “soft on crime” and giving the advantage to the defendant. Some even felt the Court was preventing the police from during their job. Others however, felt this would make the police act in a more professional manner. Some people even believed that the decision in this case affected the presidential election of 1968. Republicans made an issue out of the belief that that the Court was soft on criminals and that the police were demoralized and were not able to adequately do their job. Bumper stickers once again appeared calling for the impeachment of Earl Warren.
The case of Miranda v. Arizona, 1966
The third case to be examined concerning criminal procedure came to the Court in the summer of 1965. Earl Warren instructed his clerks to look for cases that would lay out the groundwork for police procedure. Four cases were chosen including
Miranda v. Arizona
. This case became one of the most controversial cases in criminal procedure during the entire Warren era. Teachers should first relate the facts of the case to students. Ernesto Miranda was arrested for the kidnapping and rape of a woman in Arizona. He was taken to the police station where after two hours of police questioning he signed a confession statement. He was never told of his right to remain silent or his right to see a lawyer. At his trial his signed confession was used against him and he was found guilty of the crimes. While in prison he appealed his case to the Supreme Court arguing that his confession should not have been used at his trial because the police had not told him of his rights and he answered questions because he did not know he could remain silent. His lawyer said that he was frightened while in custody and the police atmosphere was intimidating. Tell students that the issue here was whether the confession should have been used as evidence at the trial. Did the police follow the proper procedures when they got the confession from Miranda? Were Miranda’s constitutional rights protected?
Warren announced the Miranda decision on June 23, 1966. Justices Black, Brennan, Douglas, and Fortes made up the majority along with Warren. Miranda begins with the statement of the four things the police must state before they question suspects. They have the right to remain silent; anything they say can be used against them; they have the right to counsel, and if they cannot pay for counsel, lawyers will be provided for them. Students are usually quite familiar with the Miranda rights having heard them on television or film. Critics of this decision became very vocal. Warren was accused of overstepping the bounds of the judicial role and stepping into legislative role. (Powe 395) Ask students if the feel the Court should have the ability to make changes when they feel an injustice is being done or is this role one that should be undertaken by the legislative branch. Warren felt he was turning constitutional principles into practical policies. Those who supported him believed he was exercising fairness, equality and justice. They agreed with Warren in that these rights would help to protect those who were less fortunate; the weak, the illiterate, or the poor defendant against the possibility of Fifth Amendment violations. He believed that people should have the same rights as the rich, the organized criminal and the knowledgeable who will always insist on their right to counsel. (Warren, 201) Ask students how they think the police reacted to this decision at the time. Tell them in fact many of the police were aghast. One high-ranking police official is quoted as saying “I guess now we will have to supply all squad cars with lawyers.” Ask students what they think he meant by this statement. By 1966 it was becoming apparent that crime was a major domestic issue and public opinion was showing that some people felt the Warren Court was too soft on crime.
The final case to be examined can be found in the classroom activities section of this unit.
In Re Gault,
1967 considered the rights of juveniles.