The selection of William Rehnquist in 1972 was an important part of President Nixon’s strategy for returning conservative justices to the Supreme Court. The Miranda decision was among many Warren Court rulings Justice Rehnquist detested, especially as it related to government interference in local police affairs. This video chronicles the views Rehnquist held of Miranda in the 1970’s as an ironic forecast to his future ruling on a similar issue in the case of Dickerson v. The United States.
One of the Supreme Court justices appointed by President Richard Nixon was William Rehnquist. Rehnquist was a “strict constructionist,” a philosophy that he carried with him through his long service on the Court. He believed the Constitution should be interpreted in the plain language it was written in, not beyond that. For example, he had a very narrow view of the Fourteenth Amendment. He thought that it was only meant to address the problems of former slaves, not to give basic rights to all citizens. Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong wrote in 1979 that Rehnquist was the most conservative of Nixon’s appointees and that he “almost always voted with the prosecution in criminal cases, with business in antitrust cases, with employers in labor cases, and with the government in speech cases.”
Prior to his appointment and in the early days of his term on the Court, Rehnquist openly criticized the Warren Court, including its now famous Miranda decision. Decided in 1966, Miranda was based on the premise that people are entitled to the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and to the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney as soon as law enforcement officers begin to interrogate them in custody. The ruling also requires:
Rehnquist thought the decision intruded on the affairs of local law enforcement, in other words, “telling cops what to do.” Where in the Constitution are the words “warning” or “custodial interrogation” or even “waiver of rights?” He thought the Court created rights that were not in the Constitution.
While Rehnquist’s views were consistent with a conservative philosophy, his tenure on the Court proved that ideological labels like “liberal” and “conservative” often oversimplify. He proved that no one, not even the president, can predict with any certainly what a judge will or will not decide.
Rehnquist had an opportunity to reverse Miranda when a case known as Dickerson v. United States reached the Court in 2000. Instead, he wrote the opinion upholding Miranda saying “… We do not think there is such a justification for overruling Miranda. Miranda has become embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become part of our national culture…”
NARRATOR: But this didn't look like the revolution the Right had intended. So far, the Rehnquist Court hadn't outlawed abortion, hadn't attacked obscenity or put prayer back into the public schools. They hadn't even rolled back one of the most reviled of the Warren Court decisions: the Miranda warnings -- the very notion of telling cops what to say.
The Rehnquist Court had a chance to wipe out Miranda in the year 2000, in Dickerson versus United States. Congress itself had enacted legislation that seemed to overrule the Miranda decision. The Supreme Court could simply uphold the legislation.
REPORTER: Police have been reading criminal suspects their Miranda rights since 1966. But today, the Supreme Court considered a case that might make reading those rights an option, not a requirement.
DELLINGER: William Rehnquist hated Miranda, hated the Miranda rights, thought the Court had no business imposing those rules on the police.
HOWARD: If one reads Miranda, it's not clear whether it comes out of the Constitution, or whether it's simply something which the Court has created as a Court-made remedy.
KOBYLKA: Rehnquist, throughout the '70s in his Lone Ranger days, was more than happy to say Miranda is not a constitutional decision. It should be reversed. So Dickerson comes to the Court, Miranda's gotta go, the logic would be.
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