Criminal Prosecution and the Supreme Court

January 22, 1958

Report Outline
Controversial Decisions of the High Court
Reaction in Congress to Court Decisions
Public Debate on Recent Court Rulings

Controversial Decisions of the High Court

The supreme court has been the center of more widespread public interest and more controversy in recent months than at any time since the mid-1930s. In a continuing series of cases, decided with few or no dissenting votes, the Court has repeatedly sustained individual rights against infringement by federal or state measures designed to combat subversion or to aid in prosecution of suspected criminals. Restraints laid on law enforcement officers and investigating agencies were dramatized last June 17 when, on a single decision day, three controversial rulings were handed down. Judgments so far rendered in the 1957–58 court term indicate no change in the general libertarian trend.

The decisions in question have subjected the high tribunal to sharp criticism from some quarters. For the first time since it struck down New Deal measures in rapid succession two decades ago, the Court has interfered on a broad front with exercise of governmental powers for purposes deemed important by the Executive and Legislative branches. Demands for alteration of the structure and powers of the Court have followed as a matter of course.

Numerous legislative proposals to clarify a specific decision or modify a judicial construction also have been offered in Congress. One of these was enacted into law at the 1957 session; the decision of the Court in the Jencks case, while not repudiated by Congress, gave rise to a law which makes it unmistakably clear that “fishing expeditions” into F.B.I, files are not to be tolerated. Efforts to make plainer or to reverse other recent rulings are under way.

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