Will the Miranda rule survive? It's always dangerous to prophesy the outcome of a case from the entrails of Supreme Court argument, but civil libertarians felt cautious relief on April 19 after the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dickerson v. United States. In Dickerson, conservative legal scholar Paul Cassell, arguing to uphold a ruling by the notoriously right-wing Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, contended that the 1966 Supreme Court decision immortalizing the right to an attorney and the right to silence ought to be tossed out. The Court's conservative bloc appeared profoundly divided, with Justices Kennedy and O'Connor seemingly unhappy with overturning so established a precedent as Miranda. That suggests Dickerson may go the way of Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, in which O'Connor and Kennedy provided the swing votes upholding abortion rights.
But if the April 19 hearing hints that the outcome of Dickerson may not be as devastating as some fear, this is still a signal case on several fronts. The plaintiff, Charles Dickerson, a Virginia bank robber, was convicted on the basis of incriminating statements he made just before being read his Miranda warning. The US District Court for Eastern Virginia threw Dickerson's conviction out, but it was reinstated by the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court in 1999. In a direct challenge to the Miranda rules, the appeals court embraced a theory put forth by Cassell, a University of Utah professor, in an influential law review article claiming that Miranda isn't really a constitutional case and should have been superseded by a far looser set of interrogation rules--passed by Congress in 1968 and known as Section 3501--which have never been invoked by any Administration.
If the Supreme Court overrules the Fourth Circuit, it will be another slap at the most boldly conservative appellate bloc in the nation. Only days before the Dickerson hearing, the High Court held unconstitutional two Fourth Circuit rulings that would have virtually ended habeas corpus reviews of death penalty cases. …