Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Life of Service

By Mimi Clark Gronlund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
He Made a Difference

The most underrated Justice in recent history.

Bernard Schwartz, Super Chief

IN HIS BIOGRAPHY OF EARL WARREN, historian Bernard Schwartz described Tom Clark as “the most underrated Justice in recent history.”1 I cannot explain why historians have neglected my father and failed to fully appreciate his contributions to the Court and to the country. Any careful assessment of Tom Clark as an associate justice would have to conclude that his presence on the Court made a significant difference. He wrote and participated in some of its most important opinions, served as a swing voter able to differ from his colleagues without offending them, and possessed remarkable energy that enabled him, through outside activities, to serve as a virtual goodwill ambassador for the Court at a time when it was experiencing severe criticism.

The 1960s proved to be a time of remarkable productivity and growth for my father. Under his leadership, one of the most significant and controversial cases of the decade was decided: Mapp v. Ohio.2 The 1961 case involved the exclusionary rule, which prohibits the use in court of evidence obtained illegally. In 1914, the Supreme Court ruled in Weeks v. U. S. that the Fourth Amendment required federal courts to adhere to the exclusionary rule. The language of the Fourth Amendment is clear: “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” But Weeks applied only to federal, not state, courts, and in 1949, before Tom Clark was on the Court, a precedent was established in Wolf v. Colorado, which ruled that states had the right to determine whether to apply the exclusionary rule to cases in their courts. The Wolf opinion did not give

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