Supreme Court Shift Favors Police Conservative Trend Supports Law Enforcers Rather Than the Accused

By Cameron Barr, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 1991 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Shift Favors Police Conservative Trend Supports Law Enforcers Rather Than the Accused


Cameron Barr, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


JUSTICE Thurgood Marshall's liberal decisions on the Supreme Court didn't win him a lot of friends in United States police departments. His resignation June 27 "is welcomed by police officers," says Phil Caruso, president of New York City's 20,000-member Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Justice Marshall's departure puts a finishing touch on the high court's conservative shift on law-and-order issues. A series of rulings over the past several years, combined with the departure of key liberals like Mr. Marshall and William Brennan, have made the court seem tougher on suspected criminals and more trusting of police.

Police chiefs and analysts say these decisions, and the court's growing conservative majority, haven't resulted in any significant changes in the way police do their jobs. But the trend causes some liberal critics to be concerned about an incremental encroachment on individual rights.

"This court is sending signals to lower courts and prosecutors to keep pushing for more and more growth of police power and in that sense it's very disturbing," says Yale Kamisar, a law professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Professor Kamisar is a strong supporter of the decisions of the Supreme Court under former Chief Justice Earl Warren. Two of the Warren court's decisions sharply altered the way police work. In one 1961 case, Mapp v. Ohio, the court said state criminal courts had to exclude evidence that police obtained illegally - giving rise to the "exclusionary rule." In the well-known Miranda v. Arizona case in 1966, the court said police had to warn individuals of certain rights as they were arrested.

These decisions and others had the effect of "handcuffing the police instead of turning them loose in the war against drugs and against crime," says Mr. Caruso, the New York City union leader. Marshall, who joined the court after Miranda was handed down, but who assisted in related opinions during his tenure, "had more concern for criminals than for the rights of decent citizens and police officers," Caruso adds.

"Marshall's departure and almost anyone's replacement is going to be a benefit for the profession as a whole," says Ernest Curtsinger, chief of police in St. Petersburg, Fla., and a former Los Angeles Police Department commander. "So many (decisions) were going in favor of the bad guys, we were saying, 'Gee, does anybody care anymore?

POLICE felt like they were the ones on trial in the 1960s, says Gerald Caplan, a law professor on leave from George Washington University, but now "law enforcement may feel that they are more supported by community institutions" like the Supreme Court. …

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