Landmark Decisions

There have been a number of contentious and obsolete Supreme Court decisions in US that shows that US Constitution is a document vulnerable to polarizing opinions. Many cases seem to embrace the actual spirit of Constitution and uphold relevance to current society. However, others have failed to protect society against potential authority injustices.

This paper examines Plessy v. Ferguson and Miranda v. Arizona – the two cases that speak a lot about US Constitution vulnerability to opinions.Plessy vs. Ferguson, 163 U.

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S. 537 (1896) The plaintiff of this case, Homer Plessy, was 7/8 white and 1/8 black (7-1), though he appeared as a white man. On 7th June, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket on the train from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana and took a seat in a Whites-only car. Consequently, he was arrested, imprisoned, brought to trial in New Orleans’ court, and convicted of 1890 law violation. He filed a petition against Ferguson, a judge who tried him at Louisiana Supreme Court, alleging that 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause that prohibits states from denying any person inside their jurisdiction equal law protection and 13th Amendment that bans slavery were violated by segregation law.

The Decision The court held that although the aim of 14th Amendment was creation of ‘absolute equality’ of both races before the law, such equality was unlimited only in civil and political rights aspects like serving on juries and voting, but not in ‘social rights’ aspects like commuting in a railway car of one’s choice, thus rejecting Plessy’s allegations (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2007). Factors that Influenced this Decision There are several factors that influenced this decision made by Judge Brown. The first factor is a majority decision by 7-1 vote. In the majority opinion, the judge made a distinction between social and political equality, thus explaining that the primary function of 14th Amendment is enforcement of unlimited equality of both races before the law but not enforcement of social equality. The second factor is inability of legislation to exterminate racial intuitions or incapacity to eradicate distinctions founded on physical differences. The Judge argued that the law cannot transform public attitudes because attempting to do so would accentuate difficulties of the then moment.

He held that if political and civil rights of both races were equal, then no race would be politically or civilly inferior to other, and if one race is socially inferior to the other, then the US Constitution could not place them in the same plane (Pearson education, 2005). This means that law requiring and permitting race segregation does not necessarily imply inferiority of any race, but it has been accepted within the state’s laws competency. The last factor is endowment of social advantage. This highly influenced the decision as the judge held that the government had secured equal rights to every citizen before the law, had provided equal progress and improvement opportunities, thus having fulfilling all of its functions regarding social advantages with which it was capable. Extent to Which Political Ideology Influences Constituional Law The civil war was a crucial factor in the history of America, especially in shaping racial relations. Civil war was not kept aside from this case’s decision.

Political and social views also created an illusion that favored the notion that Whites were superior to Blacks. This clearly shows that political ideologies have greatly influenced the decision. In addition, 7-1 in favor of Separate but Equal (SBE) doctrine also reflects a lot how Whites view Blacks. Due to these political ideologies, constitutional law was formulated to allow civil and political equalities but not social equality. This is probably why the court ruled in favor of Ferguson (White) and against Plessy (Black). Political Climate when the Case Was Decided The political climate when this case was decided was characterized by extensive economic depression that was initiated by the Panic of 1893.

Also, election realignment was taking place at that time; the Republicans became famous and monetary policies of every candidate became leading theme in their election campaigns. Furthermore, America had not completely done away with civil wars, because in 1995, the Spanish-American War was incited by Cuba events. Philosophical Underpinnings that May Have Influenced Court Thinking This case was decided in the era that we can refer to as reconstruction era, reflecting the political climate present by then. Judge Brown had a lawful argument in relation to the 13th Amendment. There is no basis on which this decision on the grounds of this Amendment can be contested, because the decision does not violate the spirit of this Amendment or the Amendment itself. In his dissent, Harlan holds that 13th Amendment assumes all ‘badges of servitude’ arguing that SBE is within it.

How the Court Read US Constitution Differently According to the law under SBE, Blacks are entitled to receive similar public and accommodation services like Whites, but it was not practiced this way as the Blacks’ facilities were inferior to Whites’. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) A kidnapping followed by a rape occurred on 13th March, 1963 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ernesto Miranda, a 23 years old Mexican man was arrested in his residence and taken to a police base, where he was interrogated in an interrogation room. Realizing that there were several crimes charged against him, Miranda repeatedly requested for an attorney, but his requests were refused. Later, investigators obtained a documented confession, including a disclaimer signed by him indicating that he had fully understood all his legal rights and had knowingly and willfully waived them. The Decision The Court under the ruling of Judge Warren held that Miranda was not denied of his right to confer with an attorney and had one during the interrogation and that his right not to be compelled to convict himself was perfectly protected in every manner possible. The fact that Miranda had signed a statement containing a clause providing that he was aware of his legal rights did not provide the sufficient waiver needed to abandon constitutional rights.

However, despite retracting his confession, Miranda was found guilty and jaileed under the provisions that ‘due to coercive scenery of custodial interrogations carried by police, no confessions would be acceptable under 5th and 6th Amendments except when a victim is made to understand his rights’ (Graves, 2012). Factors that Influenced this Decision There are several factors that influenced the decision of this case. Firstly, Constitution lacked factual and textual standpoints. According to Mr. Justice White’s dissent, the proposition that the privilege against self-incrimination prohibits interrogation in the custody without the warnings given in the majority opinion and in absence of clear waiver had no support of privilege in relation to 5th Amendment. The other factor is lack of competence in totality of circumstances.

Warren indicated that a valid waiver would not be simply presumed from the victim’s silence after warnings were given or simply drawn from the facts that confession was eventually acquired. In addition, he held that evidence that accused was threatened, cajoled or tricked into a will of waiver indicate that the defendant never waived his privilege voluntarily. Extent to which Political Ideology Influences Constitutional Law In relation to this case, those who were against the decision saw it as legal system’s efforts to treat despicable illegal suspects with respect and dignity, especially those who contribute to growing crime rates. They further viewed constitution laws as being soft and protecting criminals rather than abiding citizens. However, it came out to serve all citizens, showing the basic justice philosophy of how justice system is supposed to operate (Kimberly, 2007).

Political Climate when the Case Was Decided The political climate during this case was more modern in the perspective of reasoning. However, in 1960s, America was undergoing significant political, social, and economic changes. Activism was vivid at the core point of civil rights’ movements, including the Vietnam War. It is also the period in which the country saw elevated drug activities and increasing subversive, rebellious sub-ethnicity that was led by hippie and rock and roll movements. Philosophical Underpinnings that May Have Influenced Court Thinking With the extensively held views that interrogations of the police were invisible to the public in greater extent, the philosophical underpinnings of this case is that it assisted citizens to avoid being taken advantage of by dominant police.

Its ruling was applied in other cases, as the court viewed Miranda’s warnings not as constitutionally protected rights but as prophylactic standards formulated to protect freedom against self-incrimination. How the Court Read US Constitution Differently In this case, both courts that tried Miranda seem to have been bound by both political and social ideologies. They read the constitution almost similarly in retrospect. The Fuller Court seems to be reading the constitution in a more biased and prejudiced way. Warren court, on the other hand, appears to have been struggling with definite purpose of the law rather than making efforts to enforce preferential beliefs regarding the texts of the Constitution.