Judges on Judging: Views from the Bench

By David M. O'Brien | Go to book overview

24
Guardians of Our Liberties --State Courts No Less Than Federal

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN JR. Justice, Supreme Court of the United States

Over the past two decades, decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States have returned to the fundamental promises wrought by the blood of those who fought our War between the States, promises which were thereafter embodied in our Fourteenth Amendment--that the citizens of all our States are also and no less citizens of our United States, that this birthright guarantees our federal constitutional liberties against encroachment by governmental action at any level of our federal system, and that each of us is entitled to due process of law and the equal protection of the laws from our state governments no less than our national one. Although courts do not today substitute their personal economic beliefs for the judgments of our democratically elected Legislatures, Supreme Court decisions under the Fourteenth Amendment have significantly affected virtually every other area, civil and criminal, of state action. And while these decisions have been accompanied by the enforcement of federal rights by federal courts they have significantly altered the work of state court judges as well. This is both necessary and desirable under our federal system--state courts no less than federal are and ought to be the guardians of our liberties.

The decisions of the Supreme Court enforcing the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment generally fall into one of three categories. The first concerns enforcement of the federal guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The best known of course are Brown v. Board of Education, 1 invalidating state laws requiring public schools to be racially segregated, and Baker v. Carr, 2 and its progeny, 3 which invalidated state laws diluting individual voting rights by legislative malapportionments. But perhaps even more the concern of state bench and bar, in terms of state court litigation,

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