Supreme Court Philosophies

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Supreme Court Philosophies

Supreme Court Philosophies

The Supreme Court has always made decisions that have had a lasting impact on society. There have been a number of reforms and rulings in this highest court in the land particularly from the year 1953 to date (Stone, 2011). Some of the courts include The Warren Court (1953 – 1969), The Burger Court (1969 – 1986), The Rehnquist Court (1986 – 2005) and The Current Robert Court (2005 – Present).

Warren Court 1953-1969

Earl Warren was the president of this court from the year 1953 to 1969. Under his inspiration, the court made a number of legal judgments that remain to hold significance in American’s life to date. Examples of such cases include Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona of the year 1954 and 1966 respectively (HICKMAN, 2011). The United States had experienced numerous cases of segregation from early to the mid-twentieth century. The discrimination problem affected the southern states than it was in the Northern states. During this period equity was mainly seen on paper but it was not practical. Some of the sectors which were affected include schools, supplies, sub-standard buildings, and transportation. The African Americans were offered inferior educational facilities compared to the white.

The 1954 decision came to the rescuer of this situation when segregation was made unconstitutional. This ruling on Brown v. Board of education was as a result of Warren’s effort since previous judges were unable to produce such unanimous ruling.  This and other decisions he made on the issue of racial equity catalyzed the 1950s and 1960s civil right protests. His bench also advocated and ruled the ‘one-person, one-vote’ principle which triggered reforms on the electoral sector. Voting powers were transferred from rural areas to urban and suburban areas.

Yet in another case, the Gideon v. Wainwright case of 1963 made a landmark in racial and political equity. Poverty-stricken defendant counsel was required in this case; despite the social status of the parties involved he preached fairness when deciding criminal proceedings. Other cases where fairness prevailed include Mapp v. Ohio of 1961, and that of Miranda v. Arizona of 1961 (HICKMAN, 2011). In these cases, all arrested person had the right to counsel and in cases where the arrested could not afford one he or she was provided for one.

Although Warren was disappointed for losing the presidency after seeking the Republican nomination in 1948 and 1952, he managed to do well going by his achievements as the chief justice. He achieved much than most United States presidents till to date (HICKMAN, 2011). He was the leader of the court to the most thoughtful and prevalent revolution ever achieved through peaceful and democratic means, as stated by Justice Abe Fortas.

Burger Court

This court was led by E. Burger during the reign of President Nixon. He succeeded The Warren court which was popularly known for making decisions which expanded civil rights and civil liberty of the citizens. He took over the leadership of the court in the year 1969 and retired in 1986. When President Nixon resumed office there was a vacancy in the Supreme Court following the resignation of Justice Warren of the year 1968 (Goelzhauser, 2015) . He resigned to President Lyndon Johnson. Warren Burger was appointed the president together with other associate justices during the reign if President Nixon during his reign. President Nixon opposed the reforms brought on board by The Warre court saying that the court should focus on enforcing the law rather than making new laws.

The Traditionalist supporters of the president were hopeful that the President’s changes and the rightward shift on the Supreme Court would liberate them from the reforms enforced by The Warren court. One of the controversial decisions which were under siege was that from the Mapp v. Ohio case, it stated that any illegally seized evidence was not used in the court proceedings. Most decisions which were pronounced by the Burgers court came a long way in eroding the previous ones made by The Warren court (Goelzhauser, 2015). An example of such rulings is that in United States v. Leon of 1984, here the court they found an exception to Mapp’s exclusionary decree which focused on a search warrant that was allowed mistakably which is commonly referred to as the good-faith exception.

On matters concerning religious liberty, this court investigated the clause concerns which emerged during the previous court. For example, in the Engel v. Vitale case of 1962, the court made a decision that a government written letter was not supposed to be used in public schools. The Burger Court found fault in this ruling thus tried to make various amendments. The ruling made in the year 1972 by the court under Chief Justice Burger involving the rift between religious liberty and public schools of the State, granted freedom to three Amish families enjoying their given freedom. They stopped their children from attending school because they believed that all secondary schools of the time did not observe the Amish religion, they feared that their children were deprived of their salvation. The court respected their right to religion and allowed them to be schooled at home. The Amish religion embraced centuries-old tradition (Goelzhauser, 2015). In 1970 it was decided the private school which encouraged racial discrimination were not accepted from paying taxes. The ruling went unnoticed by the public.

In Roe v. Wade case of 1973, the right to privacy to abortion was enforced. Although the law always tried to restrict this practice, the decision went against the efforts. On the positive, it discouraged funding such acts in the Harris v. McRae (1980). The Burger Court brought retrogressive progress in the Supreme Court. It saw the court’s transit from its liberal nature during Warren tenure to a conservative Rehnquist Court.


Conservative Rehnquist Court

After the retirement of Warren Burger as the president of the Supreme Court of U.S.A in the year 1986, Justice Rehnquist was nominated to take his place the same year by President Ronald Reagan. Rehnquist led The Supreme Court until his death in the year 2005 (Rehnquist, 2011). His leadership was federal in nature; Rehnquist Court upheld more the rights of the nation as compared to those of individuals. This Court struck down an act of Congress which was the first one since 1930. On the other side, they advocated for the equal legal protection.

During his first fifteen years of the Rehnquist court, Rehnquist wrote individual dissents. In the beginning, he was passionate on federalism which upheld the State powers while it undermined congressional powers[1]. Another avocation he championed for was demystifying the argument that “that just because an action is religiously motivated, does not make it consequence-free for society, and should not make it consequence-free, under society’s laws (Rehnquist, 2011).” He also supported the ruling on the death penalty as well as opposing same-sex marriages in the States. One of the major decisions he is remembered of is the (5-4) decision that prevented a recount of the ballot and declaring George W. Bush into the presidency.

In the Texas v. Johnson case, it was established that flag- burning should be protects in the same way political speeches were protected under the First Amendments. He wrote a dissenting ruling in a case which was a decision by 5 majority judges against 4 minorities (Rehnquist, 2011). The significant representation of the flag as a sign of national unity was the basis of his argument. The public was encouraged to view it with the importance it deserves. He as well stated that it should not be put at the same levels as marketplace ideas.

Another case was decided in 1992 known as Planned Parenthood v. this case unlike the previous cases where he was involved in writing dissenting rulings here he was received more company in the dissenting team. Nevertheless the right to carry out abortion was upheld by a 5-4 majority.

In the year 1995, he led the case: United States v. Lopez case. In this case, he was among the majority declaring Gun Free Zone Act of 1990 unconstitutional. Previous to this ruling a gun-fee 1,000-foot perimeter was provided around the school compound. The argument was that the Congress could only regulate the commercial exchange of guns within this region. He also added that involvement of the government in regulating guns in schools as if it were commerce, is wrong just it is was later seen in the Sandra Day O’ Connor’s 2005 statement on Kelo v. New London Case[2].

Finally, we have the Kelo v. New London Case. It was a 5-4 controversial ruling which sort to broaden the powers of the Fifth Amendment (Rehnquist, 2011). The government had the powers to reclaim public land and put up private entities such as malls and factories. They argued that if the land will be used to provide employment to the citizen then it was okay. The law saw many private owners of properties especially land into a great fear of losing their properties to other private investors.

Current Robert court

John Robert was nominated to the Court of Appeal by President George Bush in the year January 2003. His confirmation came in May which encountered little opposition. Two years later after the retirement of Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O,’ Connor Robert was nominated to fill the vacancy (COLLINS, 2013). During the reign of Justice Robert, he has written a ruling that accepts the local government from the strict adherence to the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 procedures (Newman, 2004). He added that the ruled should not be too broad, but various evidences can be upheld even if they are obtained illegally.  In one of Robert Court decision, it discouraged the use of the race as a measure of voluntary desegregation policies a decision that supported the ruling from Brown v. Board of Education case.

One of the most contentious decisions the court made came in the year 2010. In the case Citizens v. Federal Commission. The ruling, it was stated that the corporations and average citizens possess equal rights when it comes to political speech (Newman, 2004). A lot of critics followed the decision claiming that there was a great defense between the two parties financially for them to have equal rights. The court was also accused of diverting the efforts put forward in many years of reform which limited the powers of special interest groups on their influence on voters. On the other hand it had a number of supporters who said that the decision was a boost for the First Amendment.

The court was yet again in the spotlight in the year 2012 when it supported a decree in President Barrack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable care act which was started in the year 2010. This ensured that the involved section of the law was to remain intact (Urofsky, 2006). Other clauses which remained unchanged include restrictions to stringent insurance company policies, free health-screening for specific citizens and permission for citizens under the age of 26 years to be insured under parental plans. The court ruled in favor to this where citizens were encouraged to secure a health insurance or pay tax. It was also a 5-4 decision since four justices voted against the mandate.

In the case King v. Burwell (2015), Robert was on the liberal side of the court which was against gay marriages. Although the majority court decision allowed the practice of gay marriages in all 50 States, we find him on the dissenting side. In this riling, he pronounced that although the practice was now allowed, it undermined the country’s democratic process.





Urofsky, M. (2006). Biographical encyclopedia of the Supreme Court. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Stone, G. (2011). Understanding Supreme Court Confirmations. The Supreme Court Review2010(1), 381-467.

HICKMAN, C. (2011). Courting the Right: Richard Nixon’s 1968 Campaign against the Warren Court. Journal of Supreme Court History36(3), 287-303.

Goelzhauser, G. (2015). Graveyard Dissents on the Burger Court. Journal of Supreme Court History40(2), 188-202.

Rehnquist, W. (2011). The Supreme Court. New York: Vintage Books.

Newman, R. (2004). Enola Gay and the court of history. New York: P. Lang.

COLLINS, R. (2013). Books by Supreme Court Justices. Journal of Supreme Court History38(1), 94-117.

[1] … Conflicts between the individual and the government should be resolved against the individual; conflicts between state and federal authority should be resolved in favor of the states, and questions of the exercise of federal jurisdiction should be resolved against such exercise. The 1976 article was often cited in later years because it proved to be such a reliable roadmap to the Rehnquist judicial philosophy.

[2] “Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

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