Judicial Decision Making, Pulling Back the Curtain (Miranda v. Arizona)

Miranda v. Arizona: Exploring Primary Sources Behind the Supreme Court Case by Stephen Wesson.

From the post:

You have the right to remain silent….” These words, and the rest of the legal warning that follows, are so well-known that they’ve almost become a synonym for “You’re under arrest.” They occupy such a familiar place in popular culture that it might seem as though they’d been part of U.S. law for centuries. However, the now-ubiquitous Miranda warning only came into being fifty years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that the rights of a criminal suspect, Ernesto Miranda, had been violated because he had not been informed of his Constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

The Library of Congress is marking this landmark anniversary with the launch of Miranda v. Arizona: The Rights to Justice, an online presentation of historical documents that shed light on the arguments around, and the reaction to, the Miranda ruling of 1966. These documents, which include papers written by and for several Supreme Court justices, allow students to explore the issues discussed by the justices as they considered the ramifications of the case. In addition, letters from law enforcement officers and members of the public illuminate the contentious public debate that erupted after the ruling.

One particularly powerful document for students to analyze is a page from a memorandum that associate justice William Brennan sent to chief justice Earl Warren about the case. Acknowledging that his 21-page response is lengthy, Brennan explains, “this will be one of the the most important opinions of our time…”

He then focuses on two words from Warren’s opinion that he says go “to the basic thrust of the approach to be taken.” He expounds,

An important collection of documents, not only as background to Miranda v. Arizona but also as insight into decision making in the Supreme Court.

Decisions are announced by the media in sound-bite sized chunks, which fail to portray the complexity of Court opinions, much less the process by which they are created.

I can think of any number of cases that merit this sort of treatment or even deeper, inter-linked collections of documents.

Enjoy!

Comments are closed.