Desegregation from Brown to Alexander: An Exploration of Supreme Court Strategies

By Stephen L. Wasby; Anthony A. D'Amato et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Housing and Voting Rights: Sustaining the Statutes

DURING the late 1950s and early 1960s, while devoting substantial attention to the plight of the black minority, the Court was also trying to cope with other controversial areas of the law. These other areas provided the strategic environment in which the Court decided its race relations cases. Before we turn to examine the Court's treatment of housing and voting rights cases, a brief examination will help us understand more fully what the Supreme Court did-or did not do-after Brown II.

Perhaps the most prominent mid- 1950s battleground was that of internal security, to which the Warren Court turned after Brown. In Pennsylvania v. Nelson ( 1956), the Court invalidated a state law that had been applied to a person accused of subversion of the national government; the justices held that federal internal security laws preempted the field. Then, in the Slochower case, the Court held that New York could not dismiss a professor who had invoked the Fifth Amendment before a Senate investigating committee. The House Un-American Activities Committee found its contempt power circumscribed in the Watkins case, in which the Court held that the committee had asked questions not pertinent to its investigation. Chief Justice Warren coupled the Court's decision with criticism of the committee, of the ambiguity of the resolution by which it was established, and of the House of Representatives for not having supervised the committee's work. The Court also limited the reach of the Smith Act's provisions concerning conspiracy to overthrow the government by force and violence. Mere abstract advocacy of overthrow not accompanied by specific incitation to violence could not constitutionally be prohibited, the Court said in Yates v. United States. The Court next ruled, in Jencks v. United States, that, as a condition of proceeding with a criminal prosecution in which FBI agents would testify, the government must make available to the defense the written reports of the FBI agents who would testify. The cumulative effect of these decisions,

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