Smothering the Flame
Suppressing unchallenged truth has set guilty criminals free but demonstrably has not
deterred … violations of the Fourth Amendment… an anomalous and ineffective mech-
anism with which to regulate law enforcement.
Chief Justice Warren Burger, assenting in
Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388
The Bible says, “There arose a pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” Supreme Court holdings interpreting Bill of Rights protections are similarly transient. Our popular belief that American constitutional principles of freedom are immutable—that objective and wise justices consistently declare the law of the land—is storied myth. In fact, the meaning of constitutional protections of the people is politically decided from time to time, depending on who is appointed to the Court. The Supreme Court’s strong constitutional ruling in Mapp protecting the right of the people against illegal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment lasted only a little more than ten years.
Chief Justice Earl Warren resigned from the Supreme Court in 1969. He had presided during the 1960s over what has been called the Bill of Rights revolution—a reaffirmation and strengthening by the Court of the basic constitutional protections of the people, particularly those of persons accused in criminal cases. A new president was now in the White House—Richard Nixon. President Nixon, who showed his disdain for Fourth Amendment protections by his own violations,