UNIT:  THE JUDICIAL BRANCH and the Supreme Court

Students will be able to:

1.       Explain the dual or two separate court systems in the United States.

2.       Explain Federal Court Jurisdiction or the kinds of cases that are heard by federal courts.

3.       Differentiate between original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction.

4.       Explain the concept of Judicial Review.

5.       Analyze the Supreme Court Case, Marburry v. Madison

6.       Compare Supreme Court Jurisdiction with other kinds of jurisdiction.

7.       Explain how cases reach the Supreme Court and how the Court operates.

8.       Analyze how the decision of the Supreme Court play a major role in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties.


G1.  Activity 1. Explain the dual or two separate court systems in the United States.

   Magruder’s p. 506 – 507, Civics, pages. 220-221

1.        Explain why the founder’s set up a National Judiciary.

2.       Describe the structure of the National Judiciary.

3.       Why are there two separate court systems in the United States?

G2.  Activity 2.  Explain Federal Court Jurisdiction or the kinds of cases that are heard by federal courts.

Civics, p. 221.  Read the Chart, Cases Heard by Federal Courts.  Answer the question , What kinds of federal laws are heard by federal courts?

Magruder’s p. 508.  Read the Chart at the top of the page.   What cases Come Under Federal Jurisdiction.  Answer the question:  Why are such cases heard in federal courts instead of state courts?

G3.  Activity 3. Differentiate between original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction.

Civics, p. 22 / Magruder’s, p. 509

Use a venn diagram to compare and contrast original and appellate jurisdiction.

G4/G5  Activity   Explain the concept of Judicial Review.  Analyze the Supreme Court Case, Marburry v. Madison.

Magruder’s, p. 517, Civics, p. 225—Define the concept of Judicial Review.

Marburry v. Madison.  Magruder’s, p. 518-519; Civics, p. 225-226.

Create a flow chart that shows a sequence of events.  Use the flowchart to describe how judicial review evolved and what effects it had on the Supreme Court.

G6/7 Activity.   Compare Supreme Court Jurisdiction with other kinds of jurisdiction.  Magruder’s p. 519 – 522.

Reading Strategy.  Annotation.  Take notes while you read about the Supreme Court.  Put your notes in outline form:

I.                     Supreme Court Jurisdiction:

II.                  How cases reach the Supreme Court

a.       Writ of certiorari

b.      Certificate

III.                How the Court Operates

a.       Oral Arguments

b.      Briefs

c.       The Court In  Conference

d.      Opinions

                                                               i.      Majority opinion

                                                             ii.      Precedents

                                                            iii.      Concurring opinion

                                                           iv.      Dissenting Opinion



Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Historical Background

The Constitution called for the creation of a federal government with the following three branches, or parts: legislative, executive, and judiciary. Article I created Congress, the legislative, or lawmaking, body. Article II established the office of the President, who executes, or carries out, the laws. Article III created the federal court system consisting of one Supreme Court and other lower courts.

As with most aspects of the U.S. Constitution, the meaning of Article III was left open to interpretation. In 1789, shortly after the Constitution was ratified, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the federal court system. Congress created a Supreme Court, three circuit courts, and 13 district courts. There was one district court for each of the 13 states.

The Constitution did not specify the number of justices that could be appointed to the Supreme Court. Through the Judiciary Act, though, Congress provided for a Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. However, the Constitution and Congress left the scope of the Court's power undefined. These powers would gradually be defined through the Court's interpretation of the Constitution in particular cases.

The earliest Chief Justices had very little impact on the direction of the Supreme Court. But John Marshall, who served from 1801 to 1835, influenced the action of the Supreme Court in ways still felt in the United States today. Early in Marshall's term as Chief Justice, a seemingly insignificant case came before the Supreme Court. However, that case, Marbury v. Madison, became one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in United States history.

Circumstances of the Case

In November 1800, President John Adams, a Federalist, lost his bid for reelection to Thomas Jefferson, a Republican. The Federalists also lost control of Congress in the election. For the few months before the new President and Congress took office, however, Adams and his Federalist Party still had control.

During these months, Adams persuaded Congress to pass a new law, the Judiciary Act of 1801. This act gave Adams the power to appoint several new federal judges. The Federalists hoped to fill the nation's courts with people who would be opposed to the policies of the incoming Republican administration.

Adams was generally successful in this effort, appointing some 39 new judges. Adams's Secretary of State was to deliver the commissions, or official documents authorizing the appointments. The Secretary of State, though, failed to deliver the commissions to three new justices of the peace before Adams's term of office ended. One of the commissions was to go to William Marbury.

When Thomas Jefferson became President in March 1801, he learned of Adams's attempt to pack the court with Federalist judges. He also discovered the failure to deliver the remaining commissions. To prevent these Federalists from becoming justices of the peace, Jefferson instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to refuse the appointments.

Marbury went to the Supreme Court in an attempt to gain his post. He wanted the Court to issue an order forcing Madison to give Marbury his commission. The Judiciary Act of 1789 had given the Supreme Court the power to issue such an order.

The Court's Decision

In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Marshall, the Court stated that Marbury, indeed, had a right to his commission. But, more importantly, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional. In Marshall's opinion, Congress could not give the Supreme Court the power to issue an order granting Marbury his commission. Only the Constitution could, and the document said nothing about the Supreme Court having the power to issue such an order. Thus, the Supreme Court could not force Jefferson and Madison to appoint Marbury, because it did not have the power to do so.

While Marbury never became a justice of the peace, the Court's ruling in Marbury v. Madison established a very important precedent. A precedent is a legal decision that serves as an example in later court cases. Chief Justice Marshall's ruling interpreted the Constitution to mean that the Supreme Court had the power of judicial review. That is, the Court had the right to review acts of Congress and, by extension, actions of the President. If the Court found that a law was unconstitutional, it could overrule the law. Marshall argued that the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land” and that the Supreme Court has the final say over the meaning of the Constitution. He wrote, “lt is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”


Theme:  the United States Supreme Court has played a major role in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States.

Task:  Study the following  Supreme Court Cases that have had an impact on civil liberties in the United States.  For each case identified:

·         Discuss the facts of the case

·         Identify a specific constitutional civil liberty issue addressed by the Supreme Court

·         Discuss how the decision of the Supreme Court either expanded or limited a specific constitutional civil liberty in the United States.

Plessy v. Fergusson (1896)

Turn of the Century Race Relations

African Americans faced not only formal discrimination but also informal rules and customs, called racial etiquette that regulated relationships between whites and blacks.  Usually, these customs belittled and humiliated African Americans, enforcing their second-class status.  For example, blacks and white never shook hands, since shaking hands would have implied equality.  Blacks also had to yield the sidewalk to white pedestrians, and black men always had to remove their hats for whites.

Violence  African Americans and others who did not follow the racial etiquette could face severe punishment or death.  All too often, blacks who were accused of violating the etiquette were lynched.  Between 1882 and 1892, more than 1,400 African American men and women were shot, burned, or hanged without trial in the South.  Lynching peaked in the 1880s and 1890s but continued well into the 20th century.

  1. Describe racial etiquette at the turn of the century.

  2. How were civil rights of African Americans violated?


Plessy V. Ferguson

Origins of the Case:  in 1892, Homer Plessy took a seat in the “Whites Only” car of a train and refused to move.  He was arrested, tried and convicted in the District Court of New Orleans for breaking Louisiana’s segregation law.  Plessy appealed, claiming that he had been denied equal protection under the law.  The Supreme Court handed down its decision in May 18, 1896.

The Ruling:  The Court ruled that separate-but-equal facilities for blacks and whites did not violate the Constitution.

Legal Reasoning:  Plessy claimed that segregation violated his right to equal protection under the law.  Moreover he claimed that, being “of mixed descent,” he was entitled to “every recognition, right, privilege and immunity secured to the citizens of the United States of the white race.”

Justice Henry B. Brown, writing for the majority ruled:  “The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was…undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but…it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon term unsatisfactory to either.  Laws permitting and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other.”

In truth, segregation laws did perpetrate an unequal and inferior status for African Americans.  Justice John Harlan understood this fact and dissented from the majority opinion.  He wrote, “in respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”  He condemned the majority for letting the “seeds of race hate…be planted under the sanction of law.”  He also warned that “The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations…will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”

Why it mattered:  In the decades following the Civil War, Southern state legislatures passed laws that aimed to limit civil rights for African Americans.  The Black Codes of the 1860s, and later Jim Crow laws, were intended to deprive African Americans of their newly won political and social rights granted during Reconstruction.

Plessy was one of several Supreme Court cases brought by African Americans to protect their rights against segregation.  In these cases, the Court regularly ignored the Fourteenth Amendment and upheld state laws that denied blacks their rights.  Plessy was the mot important of these cases because the Court used it to establish the separate but equal doctrine.

As a result, city and state governments across the South, and in some other states, maintained their segregation laws for more than half of the 20th century.  These laws limited African Americans’ access to most public facilities, including restaurants, schools, and hospitals.  Without exception, the facilities reserved for whites were superior to those reserved for nonwhites.  Signs reading “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” served as constant reminders that facilities in segregated societies were separate but not equal.

Historical Impact:  It took many decades to abolish legal segregation.  During the first half of the 20th century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led the legal fight to overturn Plessy.  Although they won a few cases over the years, it was not until 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that the Court overturned any part of Plessy.  In that case, the Supreme Court said that separate-but-equal was unconstitutional in public education, but it did not completely overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine.

In later year, the Court did overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine, and it used the Brown decision to do so.  For example, in 1955 Rose Parks was convicted for violating a Montgomery, Alabama, law for segregating seating on buses.  A federal court overturned the conviction, finding such segregation unconstitutional.  The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld without comment the lower court’s decision.  In doing so in this and similar cases, the Court signaled that the reasoning behind Plessy no longer applied.

  1. What were the historical circumstances of the case?


  1. Explain the courts decision in the case?


  1. Discuss the impact of the decision on American society.


  1. To what extent did the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson effect civil rights of African Americans?


5.       What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?





ORIGINS OF THE CASE Charles Schenck, an official of the U.S. Socialist Party, distributed leaflets that called the draft a “deed against humanity” and compared conscription to slavery, urging conscripts to “assert your rights.” Schenck was convicted of sedition and sentenced to prison, but he argued that the conviction, punishment, and even the law itself violated his right to free speech. The Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal.

The Ruling:   A unanimous court upheld Schenck’s conviction, stating that under wartime conditions, the words in the leaflets were not protected by the right to free speech.


The Supreme Court’s opinion in the Schenck case, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., has become famous as a guide for how the First Amendment defines the right of free speech. Holmes wrote:

The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

Justice Holmes noted that “in ordinary times” the First Amendment might have protected Schenck, but when a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace . . . will not be endured.” The analogy that Holmes used to explain why Schenck could be punished for his words has become probably the best-known observation ever made about free speech:

“Protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘Fire!’ in a theatre and causing a panic.”

1.       Describe the origin of the case.


2.        What was the Court’s ruling in the cas

3.        What was Justice Holmes’s main argument in the Court’s opinion in Schenck


  1. Discuss the impact of the decision on American society.




  1. To what extent did the decision in Schneck v. U.S. affect the First Amendment.


6.       What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?

World War II:  Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Origins of the Case:  Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1041, U.S. military officials argued that Japanese Americans posed a threat to the nations security.  Based on recommendations from the military, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which gave military officials the power to limit the civil rights of Japanese Americans.  Military authorities began by setting a curfew for Japanese Americans.  Later they forced Japanese Americans from their homes and moved them into detention camps.  Fred Korematsu was convicted of defying the military order to leave his home.  At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Korematsu appealed that conviction.

The Ruling:  The Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction and argued that military necessity made internment constitutional.

Legal Reasoning

Executive Order 9066 was clearly aimed at one group of people—Japanese Americans.  Korematsu argued that this order was unconstitutional because it was based on race.  Writing for the Court majority, Justice Hugo Black agreed “that all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect.”  However, in this case, he said, the restrictions were based on “a military imperative’ and not “group punishment based on antagonism to those of Japanese origin.”  As such, Justice Black stated that the restructions were constitutional.


Justice Frank Murphy, however, dissented—he opposed the majority.  He believed that military necessity was merely an excuse that could not conceal the racism at the heart of the restriction.


Two other justices also dissented, but Korematsu’s conviction stood.


Why it mattered


About 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II.  Many had to sell their businesses and homes at great loss.  Thousands were forced to give up their possessions.  In the internment camps, Japanese Americans lived in a prison-like setting under constant guard.


The Court ruled that these government actions did not violate people’s rights because the restrictions were based on military necessity rather than on race.  But the government treated German Americans and Italian Americans much differently.  In those instances, the government identified potentially disloyal people but did not harass the people it believed to be loyal.  By contrast, the government refused to make distinctions between loyal and potentially disloyal Japanese Americans.


Historical Impact


In the end, internment of Japanese Americans because a national embarrassment.  In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford repealed Executive Order 9066.


Similarly, the Courts decision in Korematsu became an embarrassing example of court-sanctioned racism often compared to the decisions on Dred Scott (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  In the early 1980s, a scholar conducting research obtained copies of government documents related to the Hirabayashi and Korematsu cases.  The documents showed that the army had lied to the Court in the 1940s.  Japanese Americans had not posed any security threat.  Korematsu’s conviction as overturned in 1984.  Hirabayashi’s conviction was overturned in 1986.  In 1988, Congressed passed a law ordering reparations ($20,000) payments to surviving Japanese Americans, who had been detained in the camp. 


Answer the following questions about the case.

1.  Describe the origins of the case.

2.  What was Korematsu’s argument?

3.  How did the Court majority explain their decision?  (Justice Hugo Black)

4.  What did the dissenting opinion express?  (Justice Frank Murphy?

5.  Why did this matter?

6.  What was the historical impact?

What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?



Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

Historical Background

Perhaps no other case decided by the Court in the 20th century has had so profound an effect on the social fabric of America as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. By the end of World War II, dramatic changes in American race relations were already underway. The integration of labor unions in the 1930s under the eye of the Fair Employment Practices Commission and the desegregation of the armed forces by President Truman in 1948 marked major steps toward racial integration.

The legal framework on which segregation rested—formally established in 1896 by the Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision—was itself being dismantled. Challenged repeatedly by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the doctrine of “separate but equal” was beginning to crack. Beginning in 1938, the Supreme Court had, in a number of cases, struck down laws where segregated facilities proved to be “demonstrably unequal.” The Court ordered the law schools at the University of Missouri and the University of Texas to be integrated in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 1938, and Sweatt v. Painter, 1950. Neither case had made the frontal assault needed to overturn the Plessy standard. However, the 1950s brought a new wave of challenges to official segregation by the NAACP and other groups.

Circumstances of the Case

Linda Brown, an eight-year-old African-American girl, had been denied permission to attend an elementary school only five blocks from her home in Topeka, Kansas. School officials refused to register her at the nearby school, assigning her instead to a school for nonwhite students some 21 blocks from her home. Separate elementary schools for whites and nonwhites were maintained by the Board of Education in Topeka. Linda Brown's parents filed a lawsuit to force the schools to admit her to the nearby, but segregated, school for white students.

Constitutional Issues

The central question addressed to the Court involved the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children…of equal educational opportunities?” In short, the Court was asked to determine whether the segregation of schools was at all constitutional.


For Linda Brown: Led by Thurgood Marshall, an NAACP litigator who would be appointed to the Court in 1967, Brown's attorneys argued that the operation of separate schools, based on race, was harmful to African-American children. Extensive testimony was provided to support the contention that legal segregation resulted in both fundamentally unequal education and low self-esteem among minority students. The Brown family lawyers argued that segregation by law implied that African Americans were inherently inferior to whites. For these reasons they asked the Court to strike down segregation under the law.

For the Board of Education: Attorneys for Topeka argued that the separate schools for nonwhites in Topeka were equal in every way, and were in complete conformity with the Plessy standard. Buildings, the courses of study offered, and the quality of teachers were completely comparable. In fact, because some federal funds for Native Americans only applied at the nonwhite schools, some programs for minority children were actually better than those offered at the schools for whites. They pointed to the Plessy decision of 1896 to support segregation and argued that they had in good faith created “equal facilities,” even though races were segregated. Furthermore, they argued, discrimination by race did not harm children.

Decision and Rationale

For a unanimous Court (9-0), Chief Justice Warren wrote in his first and probably most significant decision, “[S]egregation [in public education] is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.” Accepting the arguments put forward by the plaintiffs, Warren declared: “To separate [some children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

The Court quoted the Kansas court, which had held that “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school….”

Summing up, Warren wrote: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal…. segregation [in public education] is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”

The Brown decision did more than reverse the Plessy doctrine of “separate but equal.” It reversed centuries of segregationist practice and thought in America. For that reason, the Brown decision is seen as a transforming event—the birth of a political and social revolution. In a later case called Brown II (Warren had suggested two decisions—the first dealing with the constitutionality of segregation and the second with the implementation of the decision), the Court directed an end to school segregation by race “with all deliberate speed.” The Brown decision became the cornerstone of the social justice movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It finally brought the spirit of the 14th Amendment into practice, more than three-quarters of a century after that amendment had been passed.

What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?


Gideon v. Wainwright:  Accused Citizen Fights for Rights

In 1961 Clarence Gideon was charged with breaking and entering a Florida pool hall.  When brought to trial in a Florida court, he pleaded innocent.  However, he could not afford a lawyer, and the court refused to provide him with one.  He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison.

Clarence Gideon was determined to prove that his rights had been violated.  As he later wrote, “I always believed that the [main] reason of trial…was to reach the truth.  My trial was far from the truth.”

Gideon spent hours in the prison library studying law books. He read that the right to have a lawyer is stated in the Sixth Amendment.  However, books about previous cases revealed disagreement over whether the right applied in state courts.  Believing that it should apply in any court, Gideon wrote a letter asking the Supreme Court to hear his case.

The issue of whether state courts should provide lawyers to represent the poor had already come before the Court several times.  The Court had ruled that this right to a lawyer applies only to special circumstances.  Gideon’s situation did not seem special, but the Court agreed to re-examine the issue.

When the case came before the Court on January 14, 1963, all of the justices concluded that no court should deny a citizen the right to have a lawyer because he or she is too poor to afford one.  It was a victory not only for Gideon but also for thousands of other Americans, who would now be guaranteed the right to have a lawyer if they were ever accused of a crime.

In winning his case before the Court, Gideon also won the right to a new trial in Florida.  This time the court paid for a lawyer to represent him, and he was found not guilty.  In learning about his rights and taking action to defend them, Gideon stands as an example that every citizen’s voice can be heard.

While reading underline the sections of text that can help you answer the following questions:

1.       What “proof” does Gideon offer to support his innocence?

2.       In what three ways, according to Gideon, are defendants harmed by not having an attorney?

3.       What attitude does Gideon show toward the law and the legal system?

4.       What point is Gideon trying to make in the last paragraph of his letter?

Gideon v. Wainwright:  The Right to an Attorney

Clarence Gideon was an uneducated man who had to defend himself in a Florida court because he could not afford an attorney and the trial judge refused to provide one at public expense.  Here, Gideon writes from prison to the attorney assigned to handle his Supreme Court appeal.  Fourteen months after this letter, the Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that every defendant has a right to an attorney.

Primary Source Document

On June 3rd 1961 I was a arrested for the crime I am now doing time on.  I was charged with Breaking & Entering to comitt a misdemeanor and was convicted in a trial August 4th 1961 [and] sentenced to State Prison August 27th 1961.

This charged growed out of gambling…I worked in this place and did run a Poker game there…I did not break into this building  nor did I have to [because] I had the keys to the building…The State witness Cook who was supposed to identify me. Had a bad police record and the Court would not let me bring that out. Nor that one time I had at the point of a pistal made him stop beating a girl[.]

I always believed that the primarily reason of a trial in a court of law was to reach the truth.  My trial was far from the truth.  One day when I was being arraigned [brought to court to be formally charged] I seen two trials of two different men tried without attorneys.  One hour from the time they started they had two juries out and fifteen minutes later they were found guilty and sentenced.  Is this a fair trial?  This is common practiced through most of this state…I am an electrician here [in prison] and one of my fellow workers has two years for drunk and resisting arrest.  Most city Police courts would give a citizen a twenty-five dollar fine for the same charge he was tried without an attorney and convicted…

There was not a crime committed in my case and I don’t feel like I had a fair trial.  If I had a attorney [,] he could brought out all these things in my trial.

When I was arrested I was put in solitary confinement and I was not allowed the papers not to use the telephone or write to everyone  I should.  I did get a speedy arraignment and…was allow more time to try and obtain a attorney[,] which I could not do.  You know about the rest of my trial…

I hope that [this letter] may help you in preparing this case.  I am sorry I could not write better[.] I have done the best I could.

I have no illusions about the law and courts or the people who involved in them.  I have read the complete history of law ever since the Romans first started writing them down and[,] before[,] of the laws of religions.  I believe that each era finds a improvement in the law[.] Each year brings something new for the benefit of mankind.  Maybe this will be one of those small steps forward…

How does the Supreme Court decision affect civil liberties?


What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?



Miranda v Arizona, 1966

The Courts decision in Escobed v. Illinois, 1964 held that a confession cannot be used against a defendant if it was obtained by police who refused to allow the defendant to see his attorney and did not tell him that he had a right to refuse to answer their questions.

In a truly historic decision, the Court refined the Escobedo holding in Miranda v. Arizona, 1966.  A mentally retarded man, Ernest Miranda, had been convicted of kidnapping and rape.  Ten days after the crime, the victim picked Miranda out of a police lineup.  After two hours of questioning, during which the police did not tell him of his rights, Miranda confessed.

The Supreme Court struck down Miranda’s conviction.  More importantly, the Court said that it would no longer uphold convictions in any cases in which suspects had not been told of their constitutional rights before police questioning.  It thus laid down the Miranda Rule.  Under the rule, before police may question a suspect, that person must be:

1.       Told of his or her right to remain silent;

2.       Warned that anything he or she says can be used in court;

3.       Informed of the right to have an attorney present during questioning;

4.       Told that if he or she is unable to hire an attorney, one will be provided at public expense.

5.       Told that he or she may bring police questioning to an end at any time.


The Miranda Rule has been in force for 40 years now (and made famous by countless televisions dramas over that period.)  As the Court put it in Dickerson v. United States 2000, the rule “has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture.”


The Supreme Court is still refining the rule on a case-by-case basis.  Most often the rule is closely followed.  But there are exceptions.  Thus, the Court has held that an undercover police officer posing as a prisoner does not have to tell a cell made of his Miranda rights before prompting him to talk about a murder, “Illinois v. Perkins, 1990.


Missouri v. Seibert, 2004, centered on what lately had become fairly common police practice:  two-step interrogations also known as “rehearsed confessions.”  Here, police officers had questioned Patrice Seibert, drawing out details of the fire she had set to cover up the murder of her son. Then, she was told of her Miranda rights—and questioned again.  That second round was taped, and she was asked questions based on the incriminating statements she had made in the first—un-taped, unwarned—round.  She confessed again.


The Supreme Court found that her confession had been coerced and so was invalid.  It was  struck down the two-step practice, saying that it threatened the very purpose of Miranda.


The Miranda Rule has always been controversial.  Critics say that it “puts criminals back on the streets.”  Others applaud the rule, however.  They hold that criminal law enforcement is most effective when it relies on independently secured evidence, rather than on confessions gained by questionable tactics from defendants who do not have the help of a lawyer.


How does the Supreme Court interpret the 5th Amendment in Miranda v Arizona? 

What role does the Supreme Court play in either expanding or limiting constitutional civil liberties in the United States?