The Case of the “Whispering Wires”
I think it less evil that some criminals should escape than that the Government
should play an ignoble part… if the existing code does not permit district attorneys to
have a hand in such dirty business it does not permit the judge to allow
such iniquities to succeed.
Justice Oliver Wendell Hoimes, dissenting in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 470
The time was the Roaring Twenties, years of prosperity in America with a booming economy and a bullish stock market. Jazz, flappers, and the Charleston were sweeping U.S. popular culture. Walt Disney introduced Mickey Mouse. Amelia Earhart won acclaim as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. George Gershwin composed “An American in Paris.” Elsewhere in the world, Chiang Kai-shek became president of China, Joseph Stalin announced his first five-year plan for the Soviet Union, and Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
The high spirits of Americans may have been clouded somewhat by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, which brought in the era of Prohibition, but alcohol still flowed in speakeasies and at private social clubs. Liquor was still easy to come by for a price. An organized crime industry supplying bootlegged liquor flourished, protected by police and public officials who shared in the illegal profits. This was the time of hoodlums like Al Capone. Similar to our experience today with efforts to enforce drug laws, federal and local police made many