The Modern Supreme Court: Crisis as Usual?
"In THE FIELD of public education," declared Chief Justice Earl Warren on 17 May 1954, "the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place." With those words Warren--and the unanimous Supreme Court for which he spoke--forever changed American society. Warren's decision in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education also transformed the Supreme Court; with Brown, the Court reasserted itself as an independent force in American politics and ended nearly two decades of relative docility in the wake of the New Deal crisis. 1
Like the Supreme Court's earlier excursions into the world of politics, the Brown decision exposed the Court to a considerable amount of criticism and controversy. Unlike the crises of the past, however, the controversy that swirled around the Court in the 1950s was not limited to a single issue, or even to a group of closely related issues. Furthermore, also in contrast to the pattern of past crises, the controversy that began with Brown did not subside quickly, but persisted for more than three decades, and continues even today. The Court, apparently thriving on controversy, also moved into the areas of criminal procedure, school prayer, reapportionment, school busing, abortion, and many others. As its decisions provoked more and more criticism and controversy, the Court became even more active and involved in affecting the nature of American politics and society. Furthermore, the Supreme Court's lead emboldened the lower federal courts to extend their supervision of state action beyond anything previously imagined--leading to judicial oversight and even direct judicial management of prisons, mental hospitals, and state election systems.
The scope and impact of the Court's many controversial decisions over the past thirty years, and the remarkably persistent and intense criticism they have produced, requires a new evaluation of the nature of and the