Supreme Court: Legal Storm Center

September 28, 1966

Report Outline
Controversy Over Recent Vourt Rulings
Notable Phases in Court's Development
Jurisdiction and Operation of the Court
Special Focus

Controversy Over Recent Vourt Rulings

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's remark about the Supreme Court of the United States—“We are very quiet there, but it is the quiet of a storm center”—stands as an historically apt description of the country's highest tribunal. It seems as pertinent as ever today, as the Supreme Court prepares for the opening of its 1968–67 term on Oct. 3. Numerous decisions on behalf of individual rights, dating back a decade and more, have given rise to charges that the Court is wielding unrestrained power. The same charges were heard 30 years ago when, acting in defense of state and property rights, the Court struck down key New Deal legislation. The basic function of the Supreme Court is to interpret the Constitution of the United States. And in 1966, as in 1936, opinions differ within the Court and within the country as to the meaning of the nation's fundamental law.

Attacks on Legal Philosophy of Warren Court

The present Court is often referred to, by admirers and detractors alike, as the “Warren Court.” In the 13 years since Earl Warren became Chief Justice, the Court seems gradually to have substituted “judicial activism” for the traditional concept of “judicial restraint.” Whether this development is good or bad is moot, but without question it is highly controversial. In an address at the Georgetown University Law Center on March 16, 1965, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. contrasted past and present judicial attitudes on the Court:

Under the influence of [John] Austin and other legal thinkers who dominated legal thought in the 19th century, the vogue of isolating law from the other disciplines, particularly from theology and from philosophy that was not expressly legal philosophy, had its day. This was admittedly a notion of law wholly unconcerned with the broader extra-legal values pursued by society at large or by the individual. It lived in a heaven of abstract technicalities and legal forms and found its answers to human problems in an aggregation of already existing rules, or formed no answers at all. The substantive problems of human living were left for adjustment to the psychologists, educators, economists, bankers and other specialists.

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Sep. 28, 1966  Supreme Court: Legal Storm Center
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Jun. 05, 1939  Supreme Court Decisions, 1938–39
Nov. 17, 1938  Supreme Court Appointments
May 31, 1938  Supreme Court Decisions, 1937–38
Jun. 01, 1937  Supreme Court Decisions, 1936–37
Jun. 01, 1936  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1935-36
Jun. 05, 1933  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1932-33
Jun. 04, 1932  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1931–32
Jun. 06, 1931  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1930–31
Jun. 09, 1930  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1929–30
Jun. 10, 1929  Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1928-29
Jun. 09, 1928  Decisions of the Supreme Court 1927–28
Sep. 27, 1924  The Supreme Court Issue
Supreme Court History and Decisions